Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Toddlerhood 101: Unwanted Public Behavior, or Ruby Threw A Hamburger at Somebody in Five Guys

This is my last set of toddler tips, I assure you. I just thought I might talk about unwanted behavior in public because last Friday I had a horrible shopping experience with Ruby that culminated in her throwing a hamburger at an innocent bystander in Five Guys (!!!). I had to wipe ketchup off this poor woman's shirt and everything. I think it was one of the lowest moments of my life as a parent. But of course these low moments make us smarter and better for next time, right? I mean, we sort of have to pass beneath all things (food throwing, vomiting on a 14 hour flight to Taiwan, swearing in front of a Nursery leader, fits on a dirty bathroom floor, etc) so we can emerge better and more refined on the other side. I hope so, anyway.

So here's what I learned after I emerged from the hamburger-ketchup wiping-screaming on the floor incident last Friday (this pertains to public naughtiness only. For at-home difficulties, I refer you to the book "The First Three Years of Life", which has really helped me. It suggests that you not allow behavior from your two-year-old that you would not allow from an eight-year-old. That was very interesting to me. I get sick of the whole "well, he's only three" excuse for things that should not be tolerated). When it comes to dealing with bad behavior in public, I suggest three lines of defense before you abandon that shopping cart full of items and rush out the door:

1. Avoidance. If you can avoid taking your toddler to the grocery store, DO IT. Go shopping in the evening or on Saturday when your spouse can stay with the kids. That might not be an option for everyone, but babysitters or babysitting trades can also work. If you absolutely must take your toddler to the store, avoid going when your toddler is tired, hungry, sick, or in a grumpy mood. My mistake with Ruby on Friday was that I forgot she had been up really late the night before. I also took her to four different stores before we stopped to eat. Avoidance also means staying away from hot-button issues and areas. Like don't go to the toy section of the store, and try to preempt any sort of meltdown. You have to plan ahead, perhaps choosing the longer route to the store that doesn't take you past Chuck E Cheese. It also helps to think like a cave man, because that's how your toddler thinks. It's true; I saw it in a parenting video once. Toddlers are cave men, developmentally speaking. Anyway, avoidance doesn't make you a wimp or an inadequate parent, by the way. It actually means you are in tune with your child.

2. Distraction. If your attempt at avoidance fails, your next line of defense is distraction. Keep toys in your purse. Open a box of Goldfish and pay for it at the counter. Ask your toddler to help you find a certain item, or play "I Spy" or whatever. Punishing, threatening, and even yelling will not work in public. How can you give a toddler a time-out at Target? Instead, try to distract your child when things start to go south. I probably could have avoided my whole hamburger fiasco if I had let Ruby cut it in half (she freaked out when I cut the hamburger in half to give some to Hazel), or if I had cut it in half before she started eating it (duh), or maybe I could have waited till she was looking the other direction, the whole bait-and-switch technique. Whatever it takes, try to distract.

3. Bribery. When all else fails, just bribe your child. "If you can be good, I'll let you choose a candy bar in the check out line/we'll go to the park after/I'll give you a popsicle in the car" etc. Bribery can sometimes lead to spending too much money, though, which is why it is a last resort. For example, I have bought stupid things for my toddlers to bribe them to be good when I was really desperate. But that's what I get for not being smart enough to avoid the situation in the first place! Every time I look at Ruby's Buzz Lightyear "slanket" I am reminded of just how much I need to avoid taking her out in public.

A word about yelling: I yell at my kids at home. I try not to, but sometimes I do lose my temper and yell. But yelling in public is so embarrassing and undignified. It really makes the people around you uncomfortable, and it also makes them sympathize with you much less than they normally would. I was at McDonalds today, rewarding Hazel for being brave during her Kindergarten shots, and there were a few moms there yelling, snapping, breathing hard through their noses, getting red in the face, and counting to three really loud. It made me so uncomfortable and it also made me feel bad for their kids. This is funny because I yell, snap, get red in the face, breathe hard, and count to three really loud at home quite frequently. This makes me realize how ugly I must seem at home, so maybe it will help me stop.

Finally, don't sweat it if your toddler throws a huge tantrum in public. Let people stare. Let them judge and gawk. You can't stop them from doing it, anyway. All you can do is maintain some dignity by not matching the intensity of the fit. Keep your cool at all costs. If your three lines of defense fail, and you have really had it, just walk away. Come back later and start over again without your little cave man in tow. Life is too short to spend it being humiliated at the grocery store.
So, that's all I got. Good luck with your toddler. Peace out.


  1. I don't want the toddlerhood 101 series to end. I love it!

  2. Frozen Cacti, I have been thinking about you and your blog a lot lately and wondering if I missed my chance to be invited to read it, so do I have to be specially invited to view your new blog? If so, can I be? Also, I LOVE your ipod idea. That is the ultimate distraction.

  3. Wah! Throwing hamburgers at strangers?! I mean, not judging, just scared. Pretty much everything is potentially embarrassing to me, so reading your blog is helping me prepare to die everyday when I have kids who do embarrassing things.

  4. The best advice I ever read about kids in public was the time a child was having a major meltdown in the grocery store, and the mom just picked the screaming kid up, abandoned the cart full of groceries, and headed to the car, and home. It seems like we get in trouble when we want to make "one more stop", or shop for "just 10 more minutes". You are right on- plan ahead, and use our brains!