"Mom, I really wanted to help this mother at the store, but I knew she wouldn't have listened to a 17-year-old about how to parent an out-of-control child," said my daughter Paije after she returned.
Could a 17-year-old youth really offer helpful advice to a struggling mother? Yes. I will explain how in a moment.
Screaming babies happen
Every mother has probably had or seen one of those emotionally draining grocery store experiences when their child is crying or throwing a tantrum. When this occurs, all she wants is to get out of that store as quickly as possible so she doesn't go insane.
When I was a young mother with a newborn baby screaming the entire time we were checking out, I had a life-altering experience.
As my son tested his young lungs to see how loud he could be, and as I allowed my stress to build, an older woman walked by and made eye contact with me. She smiled and said, "Be calm; let him scream. We've all been there. The most important thing you can do when your baby is crying in public is be calm and not worry about how other people are seeing you."
I instantly felt the truth of her words. She was right. My job, when I couldn't console him immediately, was to be calm and simply trust that it would not last and that he would be OK. Calmness is probably one of the rarest and most powerful qualities for us to develop. At that moment I knew I could choose calmness no matter what someone else was doing or thinking, and that I needed to develop that power for success in motherhood.
Tantrums and a wise 17-year-old
Paije related the whole story of the grocery store line tantrum. I could tell it really broke her heart that she felt powerless to help.
Paije was buying a few items when this mother with a full cart and son arrived at the self check-out. Her son, probably age four or five, was pulling on the mother as he was screaming, shouting and crying uncontrollably over a toy that he had been denied a few moments earlier.
"I " want my " motorcycle!!!"
The little boy said this over and over. The mother ignored him the first few times.
"I " " he said as he heaved and sniffled, " " want my motorcycle!"
"We'll talk about it tomorrow when you're calm and happy," his mother said.
"I want it " now!" the boy screamed.
"No, we're not getting it right now," the mother replied.
As Paije was finishing up at the self check-out, the mother started yelling at her child to stop, clearly struggling to keep him in control. But she was losing her cool. The son then started to walk to the toy aisle to go get "his motorcycle," even though his mother had said "No." The mother then threatened him, saying, "I'm going to leave you!"
The son came back, even more upset than he was before, and they left.
We could take time to diagnose what happened in the above circumstances to cause this situation. Maybe Mom started a power struggle or has been worn down with tantrums in the past, which taught the child to act in this way. But in the end, it doesn't matter why the situation started. The only thing that matters is how to stop it from happening again.
Because my 17-year-old daughter regularly helps me train adult couples how to teach their children self-government skills, I asked her, "What would you have said to her if you had the chance?"
A letter from a 17-year-old parenting mentor
To the mother of the child in the grocery store line,
Ma'am, I couldn't help but notice that you were a bit stressed and upset with your son at the store. Don't worry; everyone has situations like this at one point or another. But, would you like some advice? There are things you can do to stay calm, while at the same time helping your child be calm as well.
Here are four easy skills children can learn to help them be more happy and obedient:
Accepting "No" answers/criticism
The skills your strong-willed son needs most in situations like the tantrum about the motorcycle are accepting "No" answers and disagreeing appropriately. Then he'll be able to calmly explain his thoughts and choose to be "OK" and say "OK" when you still choose to tell him "No."
I was raised on these skills and have noticed over the years that knowing how to govern myself has given me a lot of peace, freedom and happiness.
Before your child is in a situation where he needs to accept a no answer, teach him these four steps and explain what the negative consequence will be for not doing one of the steps, and what your calm correction will sound like. Corrections should be predictable for children. This helps them decrease anxiety and remember their side of corrections. For negative consequences, we have always used extra chores, for example.
Each one of the above mentioned skills has its own skill set. This is the skill set for accepting "No" answers (Skills promote calmness):
Look at the person.
Use a calm face, voice and body.
Say "OK" or ask to disagree appropriately (This is another really useful skill to learn).
Drop the subject (This means no more talking about it or showing emotion because of the no answer or criticism given).
Learning self-mastery takes time and is a lifetime pursuit; so a child could still choose to have a meltdown. However, if the family knows the same skills and parents learn to correct calmly, the children will choose happiness and self-government - which are vital to a feeling of safety and family unity.
Paije (age 17)
This article was originally published on Teaching Self-Government. It has been republished here with persmission.