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Answers from Experts

Q: Every time I take my 2-year-old son to the grocery store, I know I only have about 10 minutes before he starts to get restless and a full-on meltdown occurs. I have to get food and groceries, so I can’t leave the store, but I also can’t ignore his screaming and crying. I feel like other adults are looking at me like I’m crazy or I’m a bad parent. Is there anything I can do to have peaceful shopping trips with my son?

A: All parents likely go through something like this with a child at some point, so don’t feel alone. It’s difficult to get through a shopping trip with a screaming toddler, so here are a few tips. First, try not to worry about what other people may be thinking about you. It is important that you handle the behavior in a way that is best for you and your child. This will get easier over time and with more experience. Second, plan ahead. If you know you only have about 10 minutes before your child gets restless, have a shopping list in hand and get as much done as you can before the meltdown begins. Third, you can also plan ahead things to do with your child that could help prevent a meltdown. Think about ways to distract or redirect your child when he starts to get restless. For example, give your child a job that fits his age, such as helping to find a specific item and putting it in the cart. You could also talk about what you are thinking as you try to find different items. For example, you might say, “Mommy is trying to find the ketchup. It’s red and in a big plastic bottle. Do you see the ketchup? I’m trying real hard to find it!”  You could also get your child to tell you a silly story or you could tell a silly story to him. Screaming and crying can’t happen if your child is telling you a story or listening to a silly story. Another strategy is to bring a toy that your child enjoys to the grocery store. Maybe it is a toy that he only gets to play with at the grocery store. Before he has his meltdown, you could distract him using the new toy. Fourth, praise your child a lot for being good while you are shopping. Make sure to tell him exactly what he is doing that you like. The more you praise good behavior, the more likely your child will behave that way again in the future. Click here for more information on distraction and praise.

Q: I have two sons, ages 7 and 2. My youngest son is always hitting his older brother. He doesn’t hit other kids, but he hits his brother every day. Why does he do this? Is there anything I can do to get him to stop?

A: Fighting and hitting are very common among siblings. It is likely that your 2-year-old is enjoying the attention he is getting for hitting his brother. He might like seeing a shocked reaction from you or his brother, and he may enjoy causing his brother to yell, “STOP!” Remember that negative attention is still attention and kids want lots of attention. To get the hitting to stop, you will likely need to talk to your 7-year-old son about how he responds to his brother. He can either tell you or another caregiver his brother hit him or he can ignore the behavior if he is not hurt. Ignoring is difficult for a 7-year-old though so don’t put too much responsibility on him. Whether your son tells you his brother hit him or you witness it, you need to do the same thing every time it happens. Time-out could be a consequence for this behavior, since you can do it each time the hitting happens. Time-out works because children are moved away from things that give them attention or joy.  Time-out is boring. Your younger son can’t hit his older brother if he is in time-out. He also can’t get the attention that he wants. Click here for more information on time-out.

Q: My 3-year-old daughter is usually good about sharing toys, but she has some favorite stuffed animals that she doesn’t want other kids to touch. When we have playdates, the other kids all want to play with her stuffed animals. When the other kids try to touch them, she has a tantrum. How can I help her learn to share these toys?

A: It’s better to prevent misbehavior than to deal with it after it happens. If you know your daughter doesn’t want to share certain toys, it’s a good idea to put those toys away so that no one plays with them during the playdate. To get her to share all of her toys more easily, you can start by praising her for sharing the toys that she already shares. Then, you might praise her for sharing her favorites with caregivers. Finally, try including one favorite toy at a time into the playdate. Stay close by so that you can praise any sharing of the favorite toys. At first, you may only want to have a single toy available for a short amount of time. As your child gets better at sharing, you can increase the amount of time and the number of favorite toys that are included in the playdate.

Q: I like for my daughter to join playdates, but she gets really upset when it’s time to stop playing and go home. How can I get her to stop getting so upset and to understand that we have to go home?

A: Whether it’s the end of a playdate or the end of the day at daycare or preschool, children often don’t want the fun and playtime to end. In fact, moving from one activity to another can be very difficult for children. It is often helpful for parents to have a routine for how playdates (or any other event the child enjoys) end. Here are a couple of ways this might work: 1) you tell your child that she has 5 more minutes to play. You allow her a few more minutes to play before leaving; or 2) you tell your child it’s time to go. You get things together and leave immediately with your child. It is important to be predictable and consistent with how you end activities. Do it the same way each time. If your child throws a tantrum, pick her up and leave without talking or looking at her, or wait for the tantrum to end and then leave. Do not allow the tantrum to lead to more play time.

Q: My 4-year-old daughter always wants my attention when I try to talk with her brother. She keeps cutting in on our talks, and she makes a lot of noise. What can I do to get her to stop?

A: It sounds like your daughter is trying to get your attention. If you and your son ignore her, it should stop. The important thing is that you also give positive attention to your daughter. Both children need some 1-on-1 time with you. You might want to give your daughter a warning when she starts acting up and say, “I’m talking to your brother now. I will talk to you next.” After the warning, you should ignore the interrupting and loud talking. If your daughter waits quietly, you can praise her by saying something like, “Thank you for waiting so quietly for me. I really like it when you wait quietly.”