Q: My daughter goes crazy every time we go to the supermarket. I just can’t seem to enter the snack aisle without her having a screaming and crying fit. Is this normal? Is there something I can do to cut down on the meltdowns?
A: Meltdowns are a completely normal part of development. Children throw fits in an attempt to gain control of their environment. If they see that it works, they continue to have meltdowns because it is a method by which they can assert power over their parents.
For children who are preschool age, meltdowns will generally occur around food, clothing, and toys. In the supermarket, children will want to buy certain foods, at home, they will want to wear certain socks or shirts, and in the park or at friends’ homes, they will want to play with only one toy. When your child’s decision is inconvenient and impossible, you will not be able to meet these wants. That’s where the problem arises. Therefore, if your daughter starts throwing a fit in the supermarket, here are some suggestions to curb that behavior:
Stick to your guns. If you originally said “no” to buying chocolate chip cookies and then threw them in your cart when your daughter started screaming, you are teaching her that if she screams she gets what she wants. Instead, if you say “no,” stick to it. Expect to feel embarrassed in the supermarket for a few trips, but eventually your daughter will learn that screaming gets her nowhere.
Avoid triggers. If you know that your daughter always melts down when you go through the snack aisle, don’t go through the snack aisle. If you need something from that section, consider going to the supermarket when your daughter is not with you.
Sleep and food. Children will often lose control over their emotions if they are tired or hungry. Perhaps, switch the time you take your daughter to the supermarket or be sure to feed her a snack before you leave the house. This can reduce the occurrences of tantrums.
Elementary school children may occasionally throw tantrums when sitting down to do their homework. This will often occur if your child is inundated by work or exhausted by lack of sleep. These fits can involve your child slamming textbooks closed or breaking pencils in frustration. On the other hand, your child could simply break down in tears because she feels he will never complete the assignment. Occasional fits involving homework are normal, but if they are occurring on a weekly basis, consider taking the following steps:
Establish a routine. Set aside a regular time and place where your daughter can do her homework. This will ensure that she feels in control and will give her more confidence when approaching her homework tasks.
Sleep, sleep, sleep. For preschoolers and elementary school children, sleep is an essential part of the puzzle. Children who are rested are better able to handle obstacles with poise.
Testing. If you notice a discrepancy between your child’s potential and her performance, consider getting an academic evaluation. There might be something larger, such as a learning disability, at work.
Regardless of your child’s age or the reasons behind the tantrums, it is important to remember that the way you react to them is the single biggest factor in their continuation or termination. Through consistency and a bit of intervention, you just might be able to walk down the supermarket aisle again!