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Cranky Kids: How to Keep Them From Melting Down

Even the shortest line can seem never-ending when you have a cranky kid, especially if your child is too big to be held or to sit in the cart. To keep tantrums and candy-grabbing at a minimum while trying to check-out, it’s best to be prepared and have a plan.

Cranky“By the time you’re in line, the child is tired of being there, tired of the restrictions to keep hands to themselves, and tired of being wheeled around or kept by your side. And that’s normal,” says Erin Brown Conroy, parenting coach, mom of 13 children and author of 20 Secrets to Success with Your Child.

To Keep Them From Melting Down in the Check-out Line, Try to:

Interact with them as much as possible as you go through the store. “I’ve seen too many parents in a store with a child in a cart seat that ignore their child, and don’t interact, and the child is craving attention,” says Conroy. Give them lots of eye contact, smiles and talk to them as you go through the store so they are in a better mood in the check-out line.

Watch for a tantrum. “If you ‘catch the fuse’ seeing the little signs early on that your child is anxious and bored, then you can begin engaging and distracting early on,” says Conroy. As soon as you see a tantrum coming, have a plan and move quickly. Respond to a tantrum by identifying with how they are feeling, says Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D, parenting educator and a therapist at Pediatric and Adolescent Psychology Associates. If your child has moved into a tantrum, say, “You’re really angry/annoyed/frustrated.” If they are hitting or throwing, calmly tell them to stop the behavior. Then, if you can’t leave, change the situation.

One of the easiest ways to change the situation is by distracting your child with some simple games.

Here are Six That You can use in the Check-out Line:

1. Ask for help (from your toddler!). Conroy suggests using the time in line as a chance to teach your child. From a young age, kids can help load groceries onto the conveyor belt. Ask them to find all of the objects that are red or square. And count them out as they put them on the belt.

2. Play with what you have handy. Take a banana, soup can or a ketchup bottle from your cart. Make up a funny conversation with your child about what their new friend can do when they come to your house.

3. ‘Spy’ things around you that are a certain color or shape, suggests Bryson. Or let your child pick things for you to spot. Be sure to have them keep one hand on the cart while they play so they don’t run toward the object.

4. Sing a familiar song but have your child fill in the blanks instead of singing the whole song. It will keep them listening. Think: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little ______. How I wonder _____________.

5. Think of some trivia questions, says Bryson. Give them two categories to choose from (like fruit or dinosaurs) and make up a question about that category. Once they get it right, make up two new categories

6. Point to your ear!
Stand on one leg! Wiggle your nose! Keep the game limited to things they can do while holding your hand or the cart.

“This is all about the long-haul. The way you respond to your child now, as an infant, toddler, preschooler and young child, is laying the groundwork for your relationship in all of life,” says Conroy. “Healthy learning and interacting begins and ends with you, the parent. It’s a constant job, but its rewards are brilliant.”

What Doesn’t Work?

Yelling, shaming and ignoring do not help calm a child when they are throwing a tantrum, according to Conroy. Children don’t respond to yelling, and you end up looking foolish. She adds that shaming damages your child and your relationship while ignoring will only cause your child’s pleas and antics to rise.

Janine is a freelance writer and mother of three.


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