One year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we said goodbye to our extended family and piled into the car for the long drive from Michigan back to Texas. But first, we made a quick stop at a local grocery store to stock up on juice boxes, diapers, and a king-size pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups. The basic road trip essentials.
Halfway between the juice aisle and the candy aisle, the grocery store did something sneaky.
They had a display set up that jutted out into the walkway, with boxes and boxes of an adorable doll and pony set.
And then our 6-year-old saw it.
Typically, one of two things will save us from a full-on temper tantrum in a store:
- When one of our kids already has their sights on a toy, we validate their desire and then offer to add it to their wish list, which I keep in the notes app on my phone.
- If we happen to have the foresight to prep our kids for the temptation before walking into a store, this magic trick of sticking to a list has been foolproof.
But this time was different.
This time, we were going toe-to-toe with a Black Friday deal.
Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free cheat sheet of five simple ways to survive your child’s next tantrum – plus five things not to do.
Sometimes You Have to Ride Out the Storm
“Mommy,” my 6-year-old said. “Isn’t this cute?” She pointed to the doll and pony.
“It is,” I said, barely registering what I was looking at before turning my sights back to the candy aisle ahead of me.
“Can I have it?”
I knew enough to slow down. Turn around. “Toys aren’t on our list to buy today. And that’s a big toy. That would be like a Christmas or birthday present. Do you want me to add it to your wish list?”
“It’s on sale,” she said.
“It is on sale,” I said. “But 50 dollars is still a lot of money.”
“It’s not 50. It’s only 48.” Who decided it was a good idea to teach math to first graders, anyway?
“That’s close enough to 50 bucks. We’re already going to the American Girl store tonight to find a new outfit on sale for your doll. Why would we buy you a whole separate doll, just because you happened to walk by it?”
My patience was waning. We had candy to buy, we needed to get on the road, and the 18-month-old on my hip was starting to feel like a sack of sweet potatoes.
She lifted her face to look in my eyes. “But the sale is just for today.”
I sighed. “No, we’re not getting that toy today.” My tone was clipped, short. I caught myself. “But I’d be happy to add it to your wish list.”
Her chin dropped to her chest. She crossed her arms.
“C’mon, let’s go,” I said, motioning with my free arm.
She just stood there.
I called her name, and she turned away from me.
“We don’t have time for this. Let’s go. Now.”
My toddler slipped off my hip, and I hitched her back up.
“I’m going to turn and keep going. I would suggest you follow me.”
I started walking again, and I turned my head slightly to listen. When I heard her dragging her feet behind me, I kept going.
Then the begging started. Pouting. Tears.
She didn’t calm down until we were in the car and on the road for 45 minutes.
A Third Hack for Preventing a Tantrum in a Store: Share the Control
When she was ready, we had a good talk about budgets and about how new things won’t make you happy.
My husband Ty spoke up. “How about this. We’ll give you the money we budgeted to spend for you on this trip.” He glanced over at me to see if I was digging where he was going.
“And,” he continued. “It’s your job to find something at the store that fits that budget. You can’t spend a single penny over what we give you.”
She was on board.
So when we got to our hotel in Chicago, we gave her $30 cash.
As I handed it over, I said, “You know, when I was a little girl your age, I never got $30 to spend all on my own.”
“Do you think you can handle this responsibility?” Ty asked.
She lifted her chin to hold her head a little higher and nodded.
Then we bundled up and headed out to the Magnificent Mile.
Free Cheat Sheet: 5 Things to Do During a Tantrum – and 5 Things Not to Do
Then Came the Real Test
I was nervous on the walk. Dreading another tantrum in a store.
The cold seeped under my jacket, and my arms felt like jelly after carrying a toddler on my hip for a few blocks. (Remind me never to forget my trusty Ergo carrier† at home again.)
But before too long, we were inside the American Girl store. I set my toddler down, and she veered off toward a doll stroller.
Ty chased after her, and I turned to my 6-year-old.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.” I followed her eyes to the Isabelle display. The doll of the year. The one they sell only for one year.
Oh dear, I thought.
Then without a word, she walked up to the sign and started reading prices.
“How much do I have again?”
“30 dollars,” I said.
“This dance outfit is on sale for $28. That’s less than $30,” she said.
“It is. Is that what you’d like to get?”
She was quiet for a few seconds. Then: “I want to keep looking.”
I followed her around the store as she read prices.
She found a set of doll pajamas for $24. “If I get this, how much would I have left over?”
“You tell me,” I said.
She held out her hands and bent down her fingers, one at a time. “Six?”
I smiled. And decided not to introduce the concept of sales tax quite yet. “Yep.”
“If I get these pajamas, maybe I can use the rest to get something small?”
“Maybe,” I said. But I was skeptical we’d find anything for $6 or less in that store.
Still, we traipsed around, checking price tag after price tag.
Finally, we found a doll purse on sale for $6.
“Ready to go pay for these?” I asked.
She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at the purse.
“I think I’d rather save the six dollars,” she said.
“Oh!” I said. “Well, that’s a great idea.”
After we checked out, I turned to her. “What do you think? Was that fun to work with a budget?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“What was fun about it?”
“Because I got to save some money.”
Who is this kid?
Next Stop: Life Skills
We found Ty and the toddler, who was still playing with the same doll stroller, 30 minutes later.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Great,” I said. “She did all the math herself. And she decided to get something a little cheaper and save the rest.”
He held out his hand for a high-five. “Nice work, kiddo.”
She high-fived back and grinned big.
“You know what would be fun?” I asked.
“Well, when you’re a little older, we could give you the whole house budget for a week. Everything you’d need to pay the bills and buy groceries and go out for ice cream. And you can be in charge of making sure we spend it all the right way so we have enough to do everything we need to do.”
She didn’t answer.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I don’t want to.”
Took the wind right out of my sails. “But that would help you learn how to take care of money and bills before you’re an adult.”
In my exasperation, I looked up at Ty, and he was shaking his head and chuckling.
“Baby steps,” he mouthed.
Get Your Free Cheat Sheet
Here’s a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet:
And here’s how you get it:
- Get this free cheat sheet: 5 Things to Do During a Tantrum – and 5 Things Not to Do. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Hang your cheat sheet somewhere handy like on the fridge.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
Be sure to check out this go-to parenting trick for escaping stores without tantrums or whining: My Child Always Wants to Buy Something: A Quick + Simple Fix.
How do you deal with a tantrum in a store? Share in a comment below!