Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Stranger at Target...

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.


  1. An angel in the Target parking lot! Glad someone was able to offer a kindness in the middle of a rough moment. We're all just doing the best we can, and we all know our own kids better than any stranger with condescending looks who wouldn't trade places with us in a million years in the middle of a situation like that.

    Take a deep breath and rejoice that it's over, for the moment! :)

  2. I'm with you. I believe that ignoring the tantrum is the best solution. Ethan just turned one so we haven't had the throw down in the floor (in public anyways) type of tantrum. I've always wondered though what it's going to be like to try to handle it there. I can imagine the looks and sadly I've probably given some (pre-parenting days). It's so nice that a stranger commended your parenting exactly at the time you needed it most!

  3. What a wonderful person! Aren't those encounters the kind that can just lift you up for the rest of the week?

    And I think it sounds like you handled it just right - you are a great mom, Meredith.

  4. What an awesome person. Good job sticking to your plan. Being there when a tantrum is raging and keeping your cool takes time mommy powers.

  5. I do not (yet) have a toddler. That being said, I think you did the right thing. You are teaching your daughter that we use our words to explain what we want and throwing a fit will get you nowhere. Your little person is not in control, you are. Good job on being the parent! Hopefully I will handle the terribly two's (or any tantrum) with as much grace and skill. =)

  6. Mere you are a wonderful mother, and you do handle it the best way. In Fact I admire you, because this is a controversial subject to me. Since in my culture parents have different methods (to say it somehow), so just thinking of it makes me admire you even more. You did what works best for your child, you did what works best for you.

  7. This made me tear up a bit! There really are sweet, kind people out there :)

  8. Aw! In the midst of a stressful situation, I'm glad you a) stuck by your choice, and b) were recognized for it. :) Way to go, mama.

  9. I am so happy this story had a happy ending. I was expecting the typical snotty comments. How refreshing!

  10. Funny, I never really get looks from others in those kinds of situations. I don't get odd comments from people. Maybe I'm too intimidating looking me. But, ironically, I will sometimes be that 'stranger' who says "hang in there" or 'good going, mama" and about 50% of the time I will get crappy looks from the frazzled mom!

  11. So sweet, it's insane how encouraging a quick word is from somebody when you need it so badly! Always give into an impulse to pass on encouragement.:)

  12. Oh, bless that stranger. Don't you love those kinds of things? The very fact that you were sitting outside shows me you were handling it correctly. Ella makes a peep in public, and I've had looks and people telling me to "Help your baby." Um, I'm trying. But sometimes, little ones cry.

    It wasn't like you were in a 5-star restaurant or your kid was running down the aisles of Target throwing merchandise. She was having a age-appropriate tantrum and you were obviously handling it.

  13. I totally think ignoring that behavior is the best option. I'm so glad you had that lady tell you that you did the right thing. :)


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