On Wednesdays, I watch Logan (Lizzy's cousin) in the morning before he goes to afternoon pre-K. This morning, our area rug was still wet after being steam cleaned, so I decided that rather than try to keep two kiddos off the drying rug, we'd head into town and run some errands. We had already been a few places when we headed to Target.
It was raining when we arrived, so it took a minute to find a cart that wasn't completely drenched. Once I did, I tried to put Lizzy in the seat, and she proceeded to throw a huge tantrum--she wanted to sit in the actual cart instead of the seat, which sometimes I let her do, but I thought that I might be getting some larger things today, and so I wanted her in the seat with the buckle. I told her that I understood that she was saying she wanted to sit in the cart, but that this time she needed to sit in the seat. She continued to throw a huge fit--swinging her arms, stamping her legs. I took her out of the cart, set her on the ground, kneeled down, and told her that screaming like this was not okay, and that if she couldn't calm down immediately, we would go outside for a time-out. She threw herself on the floor.
So, I picked her up, and pushed the cart with Logan (obviously, I hope!) outside to one of the benches under the awning, sat Lizzy down, and told her that she was in a time-out, and that once she stopped screaming, we could talk. She responded, "No TALK. LIZZY SCREAM!" and then continued to scream at the top of her lungs. I debated just packing up the kids and heading home, and maybe I'll get some grief for not doing so, but I did have errands that I needed to run, and I had already driven into town--it's not like I could just pop back to Target once Justin got home. So, since we were outside, I decided to just ignore the screaming...which seems to be most effective in calming Lizzy down in situations where she's screaming in an attempt to get something that she wants rather than because she's frustrated. I had the cart in front of the bench, perpendicular, so that I could see her and catch her if she decided to throw herself off the bench or something, but wasn't really engaging with her behavior.
Several people gave me looks as they walked by. You probably know the ones. Maybe you've been on the receiving end. Or the giving end.
Can't you make her stop crying?
My child would NEVER get away with that crap.
Aren't you going to do something about her screaming?
I wanted to yell at them, "Even her pediatrician says the most effective way to handle her stubborn, sometimes hours long tantrums right now is to ignore them. I AM doing something, and at least I took her outside to handle it, okay?!"
It's hard not to get a little flustered when your child is throwing a royal fit, and there's not a lot you can do to stop it. It's hard not to wonder if what you're doing is the right thing...even if your parents and friends tell you that it is. I sometimes wonder if people (strangers) realize that, say, picking up my phone during a tantrum isn't me not handling the situation--it's a way of showing her that I will not engage with her while she's behaving that way, and I will focus my attention elsewhere (just for the record, ignoring seems to be the recommended tactic for handling tantrums from all across the parenting spectrum, from Dr. Sears to Dobson/Focus on the Family). Deep down, I know that I handled it the best way that I could have--but it's hard not to question yourself when you get those darn looks from strangers.
And then, it what I can only describe as a moment of pure grace, an older woman walked by, pushing her cart. She touched my arm, leaned in close, and said, "You handled that just right." I was kind of stunned, but I think I managed to mumble "Thank you," and she smiled and walked away.
I almost cried right there in the Target parking lot. Thank you, whoever you were. Truly. Thank you for recognizing a mama who was frazzled, and thank you for taking that recognition a step further by offering encouragement and affirmation. Thank you for recognizing that sometimes, encouragement from a stranger can be a particularly soothing kind of balm. I'll never forget it.
And I'll try to pass it on.