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Ask the Counsellors: Frustrated Parent, Can You Help Me?

I am so frustrated with my three year old son, every time I take him to the store to get groceries he ends up having a temper tantrum. I have tried talking to him, punishing him and promising rewards. My mother keeps telling me I’m too easy on him and I should give him a spanking. I don’t want to hit my son but I’m not sure what else to do, should I spank him? I am at my wits end and at this point I dread even the thought of getting groceries and put it off for as long as I can. Can you help me?
                                                                                                                                                                -Frustrated Parent

Dear Frustrated Parent,

This does sound like you are frustrated and every parent has times when they are not sure what to do. It is even more difficult when friends and family give well-meaning advice. There are a few questions to ask yourself about the behaviour your son is engaging in:

1)  Does the behaviour really happen every time you go shopping, or are there times when it does not happen? Is it every shopping trip, or only the grocery store? Are there times when your son has a temper tantrum when you are not shopping?

2) If the behaviour does not happen every time you go shopping, what is different about when it happens as opposed to when it does not happen? Was your son hungry, tired or anxious during the trip?

3) What is your son trying to gain from the behaviour?

4) How much do you think your reaction contributes to the temper tantrums?
If he is wanting attention, does he get your attention when he has the tantrum? Does he get the toy or food he wants? Once you have assessed the possible reasons for the behaviour you can try to plan for success.
For example, eat before you leave or shop right after he gets up from his nap.  If it is causing you a great deal of stress and worry, try having someone else care for him when you go and get groceries or at least until you are able to assist him in getting his emotions under control. Some other pointers include:

Develop a Plan for When the Behaviour Occurs
The best way to assist you and your son is to develop a plan around how you will handle these situations. Many parents I’ve worked with, often feel embarrassed and frustrated by their child’s behaviour. It can be hard to think of solutions at this time, so have a plan that you are comfortable with. Some parents leave their cart of groceries and pick up their child and leave the store. Some parents stop shopping and comfort their child, other’s ignore the child’s behaviour.

Try to Remain Calm
This can be difficult, but remaining calm is the most important thing that you can do for your child in these situations. If he is feeling out of control and you are feeling out of control, then who is in control?

It is important to remember that every parent has difficult moments with their child. If the behaviour seems to be extreme or is creating a great deal of tension within your family, a counselor with experience working with parents and children can help you and your son find peace in the grocery store.

Sherry Tucker, BA, BSW, RSW
Director of Family Services

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