Sheila's Books
Click on the covers to read more or order autographed copies!

My Webrings

Crazy Hip Blog Mamas Members!



Medical Billing
Medical Billing

For ALL Your Graphic Needs

Dine Without Whine - A Family 

Friendly Weekly Menu Plan
How to Stop Temper Tantrums Before They Start

Bet you think this post is going to be about discipline techniques, right? Well, you're wrong. But before I explain, let me tell you a story.

Before we went on our cruise earlier this month, we stopped by the aquarium in Tampa. The teens, hubby, in-laws and I all walked around looking at the various creatures.

DSCN4878At one exhibit, Rebecca, my 16-year-old, stopped to admire the boxfish. Standing beside her was a little 4-year-old boy we didn't know. She started talking to him: "Do you see that funny looking fish right there? It's called a boxfish. Can you guess why?"

"Cause it looks like a box!" he said. "That's right!" said Becca. "But there are some fish hiding in the sand at the bottom. Can you find them?"

This conversation went on for a few minutes as the other mother and I watched. Becca would point things out, and ask him to find things, and he would jump up and down whenever he found something hiding, or noticed something new. And as I listened, it occurred to me that she reminded me of someone.

She reminded me of me.

Because everytime we went anywhere when they were babies and toddlers, Keith and I kept up a running commentary of everything, just like she did, constantly asking questions to the children and interacting with them.

As Rebecca was doing this, several other toddlers in the background were screaming. The parents were trying to get them to be quiet, to discipline them, threatening them "time outs" and "We're going to leave right now!"

But as Rebecca and I headed off, she said to me, "those parents weren't actually showing the kids anything." They were walking through this aquarium, talking to each other and their adult companions, and expecting the kids to behave without interacting with them at all.

Children tend to act up in public for two reasons: they are deliberately disobedient, or they are bored out of their minds. I personally don't think disciplining for being bored is appropriate, but often we confuse the two, because they look similar. The kids whine. They won't sit still. They might start a tantrum. But it's really our fault, not theirs. We've asked something of them that they are too young to give.

Have you ever sat in a doctor's office, when across from you is a mother with a toddler, and the child is swinging his legs. The mom is ignoring him, but every now and then she hisses, "Johnny, sit still." He becomes dejected, and increasingly starts wiggling, because he's bored. Why didn't she just bring a book to read him?

I've written a bunch about disciplining, and being consistent, and following through on this blog, and yet with all that, I have to admit that I rarely actually had to discipline the girls for what they did in public. Their worst infractions were fighting with each other. They were rarely bad or caused a scene, and I think it's because they simply were never bored.

Let me illustrate this with one of most people's least favourite activities: grocery shopping. We never had much of a problem shopping together, because I had strategies (I was also only juggling two children, not four or five as some of you are, admittedly!). Here's what we did:

1. Babies

Talked constantly. "Mommy's buying broccoli. See the broccoli? Yummy!" The whole time through the store I was talking to them and making eye contact. I'd get strange looks from other shoppers, but I didn't care.

2. Older baby, toddler

The first thing we did was buy 2 bananas or 2 of those dried fruit snacks. I'd pay at the express line, and then they had something to eat while we shopped (you couldn't bring food from home; they wouldn't believe you didn't just take it off of the shelf).

Then we'd play the colour game. Let's see how many things we buy that are yellow! What's yellow? Butter's yellow! Lemons are yellow! The wrapping on the spaghetti is yellow!

3. Pre-schooler; Kindergarten

We graduated to letters. How many things can we buy that begin with the letter "B"? Bread! Butter! Broccoli! They'd scan the shelves for things that started with the B sound, even if we weren't buying it. If I picked up popcorn kernels, I'd say, "does this begin with B?" And then they'd debate and try to figure it out, because P and B are awfully close.

And then all the way home, they'd scan signs for the letter B.

The next time we'd move on to D, or P, or M.

4. Elementary School

How much do you think this is going to cost? We'd round everything to the nearest dollar and they'd try to keep a running tally, and we'd see how right we were. As they got older, we tried rounding it to 50 cents. And we always had to guess on the things we paid for by weight!

And I'd start sending them for some things themselves (but always together). I'd say, "can you two go get the milk?", or "can you two go get the chocolate chips?"

5. Today

Even today we still do a grocery game. Today it's more like: who can guess closest to the total cost? And the winner gets to choose what we have for dinner, or what game we play on family night.

Woman with Child at Check Out Counter with Blue Shopping Cart.
Photo by polycart

The vast majority of the time that I see small children screaming in the grocery cart, I think they are simply bored. The mom has not spent any time talking to them except to issue orders. "Sit still!" "No, we can't get that!" "Get your hands back in the cart!". She's exhausted. They're frustrated. And everybody HATES grocery shopping.

Children are naturally curious. Their job, as a child, is to learn about the world and how it works. That's what they start doing from the moment they are born. Our job is to help them. And yet sometimes I don't think we parents give room for our children's natural curiosity. If you can channel it into something healthy, then they're far less likely to start screaming in Wal-Mart.

My girls and I watch episodes of Nanny 911 and Supernanny on Youtube, and one of the things that we've noticed is that so many of the dysfunctional parents on these shows don't actually TALK to their children. They may carry their children around all day, but they don't say anything to them. And if their kids start whining or talking, the first response is to stick some food in their mouths, or try to deflect them with a snack.

I kept a running commentary up with my kids from the time they came out of the womb. I talked with them nonstop. I explained the world to them. I pointed things out to them when we were outside, so they would learn about the world. And the neat thing is that the more you interact with them and talk to them and spend time with them (even if it's just while you're on errands), then the more they give you free time at home. They'll play quietly without you for at least a few minutes at a time because they know Mommy loves them. They've already been talking to Mommy for hours.

I do believe in consistent and firm discipline, but I think if we started off, when the children are small, talking to them and really interacting with them, discipline would be much easier.

I don't mean to toot my own horn in all this; I think the reason that Rebecca knew to talk to that little boy was because I talked to her, and the reason I talked to her was because my mother did the same to me. It was natural, so I have no reason to take pride in it, as if it was something brilliant I discovered. It's just what I naturally did.

But I know that doesn't come naturally for everyone, because not all of us were raised that way. Nevertheless, you can learn it. And if you learn how to do it, then think of how your children will raise their children! You're setting a whole new pattern.

I have more I want to say on this subject in an upcoming post, but I think I'll leave it there for today and ask for your comments. Do you find it hard to talk to your kids? Or have you noticed the same phenomenon I have? Let me know!

Labels: ,


At 2:02 PM , Anonymous Kimber said…

You are so bang on with this post, and I am with you on discipline too.
You can tell the difference between willful disobedience and bored wiggling.
We also did participation grocery shopping, and I had five on the go. The big girls actually went into other aisles to buy things and had to comparison shop eventually. The little ones could reach into bottom shelves for Mama or choose cereal.
I never had issues in public, and they were given a lot of positive feedback as a result. Perfect strangers came to me and complimented me on my well behaved brood. I immediately passed that on to the children, saying how much everyone appreciated their good behaviour and nice manners. It wasn't me, it was them!


At 3:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I take my 3 children grocery shopping every week (ages 4,3,1). I do talk to them (or play silly games with the baby) while grocery shopping. I don't give them something to eat while we're there. (They do get a cookie if they are well behaved.) The fun part of it is that my 4 yr old loves to help me pick out the fruit and veggies, learn the names of them and even requests that we buy some of the interesting looking ones. The tiring part of it is that eventually I get tired of talking before they do!
My kids (strangely) like to go dr.'s offices or such where there is waiting because they know they will have our attention (after required forms are filled out). I just plan on that, rather than thinking it is time for me to read magazines or have "me" time.


At 4:56 PM , Blogger Amy said…

Really enjoyed this one. :)

I talk to my little one while we're shopping, but I can rarely get her to sit still in a waiting room. There is almost always something else there vying for her attention. I find myself struggling to find ways to keep her distracted for more than a minute at a time and at least somewhat still in her seat!


At 5:20 PM , Blogger Stephanie's Mommy Brain said…

You are right on with this!! And I AM shopping with 4 kids (ages 2, 4, 6, 7). I keep up a running commentary with them. Asking if they know where the bananas are or playing I Spy or counting the apples as we place them in the bag. I can definitely be better about this and will be using some of your ideas in the future.

We also do the same thing at the zoo or a museum. Tuesday we spent 3 hours at the Boston Museum of Science and never once did my children cry or complain about being bored and act up. They were tired and cranky at the end but even then they didn't want to leave. I know it's because my husband interacted with them the whole time and explained stuff to them and let them try the hands on activities.

Thanks for writing a great article with lots of practical tips!!!


At 8:04 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

You know, as I read your comments, I'm taken back about 10-12 years in time to when my kids were that age, and one thing I remember is that I think we did most of our "fun" time outside the house. We'd go shopping, or go to the library, or to a museum, or somewhere, and we'd talk non-stop. They even liked going to doctor's offices, too, just like yours, "Anonymous", because I'd bring a stack of books and they knew it was reading time.

But it did mean that I had downtime at home, so it was awfully nice!

I found in waiting rooms, the key was just to have something for them to do, like colouring books or books to read, and then they'd sit still. But I also didn't demand that they "sit still", as long as they weren't running all over the room and bothering others. If they were bouncing on the floor, or crawling between my legs, that was fine.


At 11:11 PM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Oh man. You just gave me a total Aha! moment... and not in a good way. Today (and at least once a week lately, it seems), I was having temper meltdowns of my own at my kids because - as I perceived it - they were being completely disobedient at every turn. Reality check: they are 2 and 3 years old. They WERE bored out of their minds, because I was NOT in the mood to play with / read to / interact with them today. And consequently, they got into everything, made messes, tried to help in the most unhelpful ways (think a gallon of dishwater on the floor), whined and fought constantly... generally drove me nuts.

Now that you rearranged my perspective, I am thinking that I need to be more purposeful to recharge myself at least once a week. When I feel like I'm trapped in perpetual preschool I get tired of relating on a child level and then I do essentially start to ignore them. Then they become holy terrors, and I want to get away even more. What I need to do is make more down-time for me and more interactive activities with my kids to keep us all functioning at our best!


At 3:40 AM , Blogger Xenopuslady said…

I think that, in general, you are spot on. My oldest son always loved the grocery store and other outings because he knew he had my attention and I always fed them healthy snacks. With my younger one, who spent his first several years extraordinarily colicky and very sick, this was more difficult. Especially during the transition when we had to spend twice as long at the grocery store because we were learning all new foods to compensate for his food allergies. I had a limited amount of time before he was simply done and started screaming. But, you know, older women would come over, rub my shoulder, and say, "It's okay, we've all been there." Part of it, for him, was simply sitting in the cart while his older brother walked beside me. So we learned "red light, green light" and practiced walking in the grocery store or Target at 8am when nobody else was there. The trick is that if they don't obey red light immediately, they get one warning and then they're put back in the cart or stroller for a 2 minute time-out until you try again.

These days, they seem to pester eachother and fight whenever we go shopping even though they're perfect at zoos/museums/doctor's offices. I think I'll try the money game with the older one and simple reading with the younger one.

Oh, and if you find yourself routinely at a doctor's office for 2-3 hours several times a week with young children in tow (as I did with a newborn and 3-year old when my younger one was so sick), I'd invest in an iPod touch or hand-down an old iPhone and load them up with Bugs Bunny, WordWorld, SuperWhy, et al. You can only spend so much time reading to them at that age or playing planes or bouncy ball before they're done. But they can't watch much TV at home if it's going to help them sit still at those uber long appointments.


At 7:46 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

You're spot on, Sheila! I just want to add a couple things to your list...sleep and food!

It's basic, I know. But young children (or any of us!) cannot behave well without proper sleep and nutrition. I'm baffled by moms running errands at naptime or lunchtime...OF COURSE Johnny is whining. He's tired and hungry!

But, on top of these basics, the interaction is so important. I have a friend in the neighborhood who's young child is in daycare, and she picked him and brought him straight to my house because she needed to drop something off. She was trying to tell me something, and he kept interrupting and acting out. She was frustrated, but I said, (gently) "Go. Call me after he goes to bed. Your son just needs to be with you. He's not being naughty -- he needs your attention. Give it to him."

Children need so much of our attention. But with it, they thrive. They become young people like your daughter, who is able to pass it on. What a great story, and a great moment for you as a mom!! :-)


At 5:07 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…


How wonderful that your daughter(s) have picked up on that - and how lovely that she interacted with the little boy so kindly :D

You're absolutely right about the kids being bored. They want their parents to be WITH them, not just NEAR them. But - like Happy Domestic mentioned - we can get weary of it. And kids do need to learn (especially at home) to amuse themselves independently.

I remember the exhaustion of three boys five and under... but the funny thing is, if I would pull myself together and really engage with them, it would sort of "fill their tank" for awhile, and I would get a bit of down-time.

I think having a daily routine will go a long way to heading off tantrums as well. I'm a firm believer in afternoon naps (or quiet time, for older little ones). Trying to grocery shop when little bodies need rest is a recipe for disaster. I knew to plan my errands for the morning when we were all fresh. Much more pleasant for everyone :D



At 5:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I would agree that lack of attention may be one reason children have temper tantrums. But there are other reasons...maybe the child is hungry or tired. And sometimes they happen anyway, despite the best intentions of the parent.

I actually enjoy grocery shopping, even with two kids at the bag-your-own-groceries store. But I always have and I joke with my husband I need to take the kids along b/c otherwise I would be talking to myself!!

Nurse Bee


At 9:16 PM , Anonymous Kristy M said…

The only time I recall decidedly *not* enjoying my kids' company on errands was the first time I took the whole crew out after having our fourth child... I was sleep-deprived, the baby was under a week old, and the others were 2,5 & 6 and had recently been shopping a lot more with dad (and his more relaxed style)...Little wonder *I* didn't have a tantrum...LOL...I came home after cutting the experience short and decided *that* wasn't going to happen again for a while.

I did have one very successful trick I can pass on, though... When the kids were too big/to many for the buggy, and had to walk alongside, I would give them each a quarter to hold in one hand, and the other hand needed to be on the buggy. If the child's buggy-hand let go of the buggy without permission, the quarter had to be surrendered. However, if the hand stayed put, the quarter could be used to select a candy from one of the machines in the store after checkout. They stayed close, no racing up & down aisles, and no pestering for treats at checkout!


At 10:25 PM , Blogger Mrs Random said…

Thank you!

I needed this reminder. I did much better at interacting with my kids during grocery store trips when they were younger. But now that they are older, I've been too focused on just getting in, checking off the list, and getting out as soon as possible.

My seven year old now has his own calculator. I think I'll let him bring it along so he can keep a running total of our cart purchases as we shop.


At 12:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

You're spot on...

I care for our delightful 3 yo granddaughter about four days a week. She makes interesting observations, and I love to talk to her. She started coming to our house as an almost-silent 2 yo, and it's been such fun to see her language unfold.

All the talk, talk, talk has paid off richly - at 3-1/2, she has great emotional understanding and is learning the vocabulary of disappointed, frustrated, etc. She never has tantrums with us.

The interesting thing is that her mother complains that she is a "pill" and there are big dramatic scenes where little one is crying and screaming, and mom is screaming back. Never happens at our house. I observe that mom will often say NO in an arbitrary way to reasonable requests, not let her do things (dress, help in kitchen, etc.) - generally, mom provokes the trouble.

And - no surprise - mom herself is not social and barely converses when around other people. And when things don't go her way, she has a very low boiling point.

Keep talking, moms. Take the time to listen to the little ones who take longer to process their thoughts and form their words. You'll be surprised at what comes out of their mouths!

Post a Comment
<< Home

About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

See my complete profile

Follow This Blog:

 Subscribe to To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Follow on Twitter:
Follow on Facebook:

Important Links
Previous Posts

Popular Archived Posts
Christian Blogs
Mom Blogs
Marriage/Intimacy Blogs
Blogs For Younger/Not Yet Married Readers
Housework Blogs
Cooking/Homemaking Blogs
Writing Links
Blog Design by Christi Gifford

Images from

Related Posts with Thumbnails