When we had five children who were seven years old and under, our kids would often act out when my husband, Bob, was deployed or TDY and going to the store was the worse! It’s often hard on kids when their military parent is deployed and it’s important to be understanding when it comes to their feelings. But it’s also important to be consistent and keep solid boundaries, because that will also make them feel more secure.
In our house, the kids would normally act out while we were running errands. In fact, I preferred a root canal to taking our little munchkins to the local discount department store. The primary reason was kiddie meltdown. But I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. Here are some tried and true tips we used to counteract tantrums in our kids, whether they were toddlers or teens:
Before You Shop
- Establish Boundaries – On your drive to the store, determine the limitations you will enforce. For example, each child may spend a dollar on an item of their choice, or they may choose to spend nothing at all and save their dollar. Or, this may be a trip where they don’t get money and learn delayed gratification. For teens, we also establish and enforce their boundaries so they will know what to expect in terms of spending money.
- Establish Consequences – While you’re still in the parking lot, let your child know what the consequences will be for whining or throwing a tantrum in the store or from the constant nagging from a teen. It could be the loss of a privilege such watching a favorite cartoon or going to a movie with a special.
- Establish Understanding – Have your child repeat the boundaries as well as the consequences. You can help very young children with this by asking, “Did Mommy say you can buy anything you want to on this trip?” Have the child repeat, “Mommy says I can’t buy anything I want to on this trip.” The same goes for the consequences, “What did Mommy say will happen if you whine or act ugly?” Your child will repeat, “Mommy says I won’t be able to play with Ricky this afternoon if I disobey in the store.” For our teens, I ask “So what are your boundaries in the mall today and what are the consequences for whining or nagging?”
In the Store
- Teachable Moments – About once a month, allow your young child to spend fifty cents or a dollar. Tell them they will only have a few choices, then when they ask for a toy that costs $5 say “We will have to save our money for that item, but your dollar will buy. . . .” For teens, let them have a clothing budget for the trip to the store and let them keep what they don’t spend.
- Saving Money – Even a young child can learn to love spending less at the store. Clip a candy or treat coupon and let your child buy that item on his own. I once had a coupon for a free King Size Kit Kat candy bar and gave my young son the coupon and a dollar to cover the tax. His eyes got big as the cashier counted out the change as I stroked his hair and said, “You got all this change back because you used a coupon to save money.” Today, that boy is going to WestPoint on an appointment he earned from learning about delayed gratification and a work ethic.
On the Way Home
- Positive Praise – Reinforcement is a powerful tool with children. Compliment your child for what they did right while being careful to separate the child from his actions. A child’s actions do not make them good or bad people but reinforcing positive actions promotes desirable behavior. This is especially true in teen children.
- Proactive Praise – A good example is: “Austin, you didn’t whine at all and I’m proud of how well you acted.” rather than “Austin, you’re a good boy for not whining.”
- Protracted Praise – When you’ve had a good trip to the mall or store, make a point of praising your child’s actions in front of at least one other person. When Dad comes home you might say to your spouse and in front of your child, “Sweetheart, you wouldn’t believe how well Austin acted in the store today—he obeyed me and respected our boundaries and used his fifty cents wisely.”
It may seem like a lot of work to train your kids while in the store, but it will save your money and your sanity in the long run, especially when your military member is deployed. In the process, you also teach your child the value of a buck, the value of delayed gratification and the value of self-control. All of these characteristics will translate into kids who are financially literate and can make their way in the world with confidence. Take it from a mother of seven who has seen college scholarships come into the Kay coffers from kids who have learned these values. I may still have preferred a root canal to the threat of a tot tantrum, but I survived and so will you!