I was at Schnucks the other day and witnessed a classic case of the “gimmie-gimmies.” This child was young, but at the same time I’d say old enough to know better. He spied a toy that he just HAD to have. The mother told him “No, we’re not buying any toys today.” And yet he proceeded to grab the item. She made him put it back, and he started whining. She took his hand to lead him down the aisle, and he proceeded to break free and grab the item again. The mother attempted to distract him by asking him to help her find the bananas. But it was no use, he had his mind set on getting that toy. He eventually started yelling, crying, and stomping his feet. At one point, I heard him call her a “stupid mom.” Ouch! Other customers started watching and staring. Some were maybe judging while others were probably just feeling sorry for her. The mother picked up her son (who was in the midst of kicking and screaming) and proceeded to the self-check-out line. A well-meaning employee came over and attempted to calm the child by asking him what was wrong and offering him a sticker. But, this child was beyond consolable and couldn’t have cared less about a neon store sticker. The mother quickly paid for her groceries and then picked up her child to carry him out of the store. At that point, he started shrieking so loud, it was as if he were being kidnapped by a stranger.
I’m glad no one in that store knew my profession, because as a child psychologist, my child should be better behaved, right? Sigh. A moment of humility. I am that mother of the little boy screaming his head off in the middle of the grocery store and it was pretty embarrassing. I felt bad letting my child melt down in public when I could have stopped it – or even prevented it. I felt bad causing such a commotion. But, if I could go back – would I have handled things much differently? Nope. Although at the time I felt like a horrible mother, doing the right thing as a parent doesn’t always lend itself to immediate rewards. But, in the long run, I do believe that not giving into the “gimmie-gimmies” is worth it.
Why You Should Say No to Your Child
- As parents it’s a natural instinct to want to provide for our children, to give them what we can, and to enjoy seeing that smile on their face when they get a new toy. But, you can’t get everything you want in life – when you want it (such as RIGHT NOW). It’s a fact of life, so why not teach your child early on. Of course like anything else there’s not a clearly defined line between providing your child with just the basic necessities and spoiling your child rotten. But, when your child resembles Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka, suffice it to say – you’ve given in too much. In the above grocery store situation, I believe that toy only cost $5. But that’s a moot point because I don’t want my son to think he can buy something every time we’re at a store or grow up demanding “golden eggs.”
- Keep in mind that giving into a tantrum is reinforcing your child to act in the exact same way the next time they are told no. It’s a form of reinforcement – a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement to be exact (using Operant Conditioning lingo). In layman terms, this means that although you likely don’t give in to every tantrum, just by giving in on one occasion, your child has inadvertently learned that ‘throwing a fit’ may very well get him what he wants. If you need evidence, just consider why people spend hours feeding quarters into a slot machine awaiting that small but real chance that they may win the jackpot!
- When you’ve said “no” to something, hold your ground. As my favorite Hootie and the Blowfish song goes, “Let her cry” (random throw-back to the 90’s). Throwing a fit won’t harm your child. Yes, it’s not enjoyable watching your child melt down emotionally, scream and holler, stomp and kick, and who knows what else, but they will eventually learn.
Ways to Make Saying No Easier
- Distraction can sometimes be your best friend in a tantrum situation. But, don’t be surprised if your child is too “stuck” (mentally fixated on that one thing alone) or is emotionally beyond the point of being able to focus on anything else. Also, beware of distractions that can reinforce their tantrum behavior (e.g., Oh poor child, do you want a free cookie?). Throwing a fit = earning a cookie. Not the best way to extinguish (put an end to) inappropriate behavior.
- It’s okay to be a bad mom sometimes … or in my son’s eyes a “stupid mom!” Did it hurt my feelings on some level – of course. But I know his name-calling was an impulsive, emotional reaction and not how he truly feels about me. And I’m guessing I’ll probably be called much worse at some point when he develops a more sophisticated vocabulary. As a parent, sometimes you need thick skin.
- Who cares what other people think? This is a hard one, but sometimes you need to tune out everyone else in the grocery store to effectively deal with the “gimmie-gimmies.” Sticking to your guns and saying no to your children sometimes equates to looking like a horrible mother (or a child abductor). But, try to remember that while embarrassing situations come and go, the positive behavior, values, and character you are instilling in your children will stay with them throughout their lives. Plus, most of us have been there at some point.
- So in the end, what should you do when you come across the “gimmie-gimmies?” Just say NO to your child, and don’t you dare give in! 😉