What should I do if my child won't stop screaming because I don't buy them some toys in the store?
As a father of four kids, I have countless stories about screaming children. The single worst thing about a screaming kid is that other people think you are a bad parent. Period.
The best illustration I can give you of this experience is the time my eldest was just 3, and I was new to the whole parenting thing. We were in a large European airport, and my 3-year-old kicked up a fuss going through security. After much cajoling and bribery, we eventually cleared security, stopping at the first store inside the terminal and buying her an ice cream from a fridge as the bribe stipulated.
Now, this was a trap. Maybe not the same level of plot twists as a John le Carré espionage novel, but a trap nonetheless. After I helpfully took the ice cream wrapper off and handed my daughter the cone, she started screaming — but this time at the top of her lungs in a packed terminal. These screams were not triggered by an unfriendly security guard telling her to walk when she wanted to stand still and not go through a security scanner, nope — this time it was because she wanted to take the wrapper off, and I had nonchalantly tossed it into the nearest bin. Open the Munch painting worthy screams of my ´Princess.´
The options were then pretty simple: buy another ice cream or walk through airport terminal holding melting cone with 3-year-old walking behind screaming . . .
Yes, you guessed, we did the walk of shame. Think of the filthy looks of disapproval I got from everyone who thought I was being a horrible parent and purposefully not giving my daughter an ice cream, but literally walking in front of her holding it out like some perverse donkey with a carrot trick.
The moral of this story is that toy shops, airports, or your neighbor's house are venues where young kids will at a certain age use as stages to throw tantrums. Not buying the toy, the ice cream, not giving in to promise anything to avoid a scene, is the right long-term approach. In this incident, I gave in and promised an ice cream to avoid one embarrassing situation and ended up creating a much worse one.
Toys, ice creams, you name it — we have to use them as rewards, not as short-term fixes for the mind games of young kids. My latest example of this was just last night . . . my 5-year-old asks in sweet and innocent tones:
¨Daddy — Can I have some ice cream?¨
My response was, "Did you brush your teeth this morning before school?"
¨No . . . ¨
Then sorry, no ice cream tonight.
This was met with fingers that start to clench into a fist, pouted lips, and watering eyes . . . but then, a silent penny dropped within that 5-year-old's mind, and tomorrow she had resolved to brush her teeth before the school run. She wasn't happy, but I was being consistent. Motivate, then reward. Reward for positive actions, not to reduce your own discomfort!