Monday, October 20, 2008

The Children Know

I wasn't trying to start some big controversy with my "Parenting on Aisle 3" post. I actually thought that it was a funny story about how children learn to effectively manipulate their parents. The child in question was NOT in distress, he was NOT crying, he was NOT in pain. He was simply being demanding and he knew that if he were loud enough and persistent enough that he would get his way.

I watched the mother, she was NOT frazzled, she was NOT embarrassed, she didn't even seem to be aware that she was in a public place making a scene. It was a like a game they were playing and he was winning. Not one time did she say, "stop screaming." I watched her negotiating with him, attempting to bribe him, and then acting as though she might leave him.

I hear all of the, "you don't know until you have kids so you can't judge." Well, I talked with another adoptive mom last night who like me has worked managing children in programs since we ourselves were teenagers. We talked about how in that role where you have 10 children dropped off to you who will be in your care for a short period of time that you become very adapt at finding strategies that get the type of behavior that you need from the children. The other thing that we talked about is that we have had children in our care who are absolute terrors to their parents, neighbors, and friends but they become gentle and meek with us. I don't know if we have a special kid gene that drew us to work with children or if the work with children helped us develop ways of getting through to them. But, we both said that it starts with setting basic rules and requiring that they respect us as the authority in the room and demand that they respect the other children as well.

Children KNOW who they can push and who they can't. I think that it is Dr. Phil that says we teach people (children) how to treat us.

Children want boundaries and actually respond very well to them -- enter the Super Nanny. I have CHOSEN to work with some of the most challenging children from disadvantaged backgrounds, children with emotional disorders, children with violent histories and yes they can be very strong willed and yes they will try to push your buttons. As the adult I have two jobs, one is to understand where they are coming from and two it is to help them move towards more desirable behavior. Like I said in the original piece I had to leave that section of the store because I was two seconds from intervening. Like Bennett wrote in her response I have often approached a screaming child in a store and gotten a different result. My first approach is usually with humor, "You are far to handsome too..." You usually get a shocked look from the kid, like is somebody really standing up to me? Hey, this chick has my number and she means business. Then comes a thank you from the parent at their wits end.

I don't want to offend any of my six faithful readers but there are some things that I am certain of: my children will not eat M&Ms as breakfast cereal and they will not scream at me as though I work for them. We teach children to look both ways before they cross the street and they can also be taught not to yell at mommy. I expect to be have challenges when my children arrive home and I expect it to take sometime for us to get into a rhythm and develop an understanding, but until my little ones have learned that I mean what I say and that I will not negotiate, our outings will be limited.

To have my Amharic speaking children out when they do not know to listen for the sound of my voice or respond to the look on my face puts them and others at risk. I love them too much for that!


trice said...


I'm always shocked to see kids who don't respond to their parents voice. It's such a dangerous situation for the child. I need to know that if I tell you to move, you will move because I could be alerting you to immediate danger: a car, a falling object...

I couldn't imagine a kid "showing out" in public. If they have a condition that's one thing, but most of these kids are just showing out and some are using a condition to get away with it. My mom gave a speech in the car: you ain't gettin nothin and you betta not ask for nothin. It's an oldy but a goodie.

I agree with you, unless we were getting emergency meds or something we would have left that store, and more than a few privileges would have been revoked. Mommy loves you more than her own life, but she also don't play. :)

Anonymous said...

Word of Warning. There's not a woman alive that hasn't gone into parenthood knowing all the answers for her child. They knew exactly how they wanted to parent and how they'd handle each scenario. There's not a mom alive who hasn't at least partially revised their 'plan' once they were in the throws of parenting. (or on the fly, had to come up with a new plan because the old plan didn't take into account something) There's not a mom alive who hasn't made mistakes in how she handled a situation. (probably more than once) That mom is the one who gives another mom some slack because she's been in similar situation and knows what it's like to be judged/misjudged by some one on the outside. (I'm not saying the woman in the store deserved slack, just saying sometimes we moms do)

I have a son, who has sensory issues with sound. First basketball game broke down crying because he'd never heard a buzzer. People stare when your child cries for no apparent reason and probably some came to the wrong conclusion.

I have a daughter with borderline RAD. Not diagnosed but several symptoms. She can push buttons you didn't even know you had. I'll snap at her for what seems to an outsider, no apparent reason. They probably judge me as a bad mom. I'm not.

Neither of these kids appears to have an issue. You live with them 24/7/365, you'll do things wrong. They'll yell in public. They'll breakdown someway/somehow. That's life. That's humanity. Something from their past will bubble up at the most inopportune time. You'll be caught off guard. SO with/without experience/natural instincts, things come up. I hope you handle them well. I also hope you have one moment where you don't. ANd in that moment, I hope you will forgive us mere mortals for our frailties.


VALARIE said...

Jan. This is not an indictment on mothers or motherhood. It is one story about one situation that I alone witnessed and that everyone has made personal.

I was an eye witness to an event and I reported the event. Many of us grew up in homes where an emotional issue did not exempt you from the expectation of appropriate behavior. That doesn't mean that the child or mother is perfect but it does mean that there is a standard that was set.

If we cannot agree that shouting at the top of your lungs in a store is not appropriate behavior then I'm not sure what we can talk about. Once we can agree on that then we can talk about the what, where fors and whys.

I won't defend the behavior. If the child is truly as trouble as we are making out then maybe he should not go on shopping sprees.

The issue for me was not the screaming child it was the lack of adequate response from the mother. Maybe I'm wrong maybe he has ADHD maybe he has RAD then his mother needs to have a plan for when he is on sensory overload. No person is perfect and no one will ever get it 100% right but there is a far divide between that and simply abdicating responsibility.

In all the defense that I hear of the many issue the child might have had, I've not heard one constructive thing about how she should have handled it.

I will say this again. Let me as a black mother be in an all white store with a screaming child that screams for 10-15 minutes and someone will call security. They will not check first to see if my child has an ailment. And yes, color does have something to do with it.

Anonymous said...

That's just it, Valerie. There is no ONE thing that is right. It all depends upon the child and the parent. what works for one, doesn't work for the other everytime. I think we all agree, negotiation was not the right approach. You don't negotiate with kids in those situations. You can explain to them that is not the reason you are there and move on. I say NO and give the look. That doesn't always work, especially for my son with Down Syndrome. I can tell you, he might scream when you say no. but if you continue looking at him with the Pat Summit stare for a minute or two or give him a hug with your face touching his, you will usually get him to calm down. My other kids, have never thrown down because they didn't get a toy they wanted. In fact, I can walk thru the toy store and never have a one say "I WANT THAT". They just don't expect to get something when they go out. Usually, the point of them going is to get out and have a change of scenery. (Not to get something) they realize that. That expectation has always been there. They are good with that.

I do not know that child. I do not know what would have worked with him. All I know is what you witnessed and that obviously didn't work. I can tell you I have walked away from my oldest son and meant it. Not because he was throwing a fit but because he wouldn't leave the area. He knew he better get up and get going because I wasn't looking back and I wasn't waiting. I won't do that with the child with DS because he'd probably walk up to the next stranger and go home with them. I won't do it with my daughter because she already has abandonment issues. I would never scare her like that. Each child has different experiences and different understanding. So to have 1 thing that works all the time with all the kids that are throwing tantrums is unrealistic. I have no problem removing my child from any situation where they are making a scene. Luckily, they haven't done it in places where I NEED to get something, (doctor's office, pharmacy, grocery store, etc).

I'm not mad. I just was trying to generalize the situation. That kid was out of order. That mom didn't handle it effectively. I think we can agree on that. YOu then took it to "My kid won't do this". That's when I was trying to get the point across that we have said those things. The thing I remember saying 'pre-kids' was my kid wouldn't go around with a runny, crusty, snotty nose. I just knew I could keep it clean and not get yucky. Right now, I have 2 (yes, 2) walking around with snotty noses. It just happens.


VALARIE said...

Just for clarity, I said that my child my have a melt down in a store. I also said that if I could not get the situation under immediate control I would leave the store. I said that I would leave each time until it became understood that we do not behave that way in public.

What I said that my child won't do is yell at me like I am stranger on the street instead of the mother. Yes a child will try it, my child will learn quickly that it is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Yes, I will say firmly I will not stand and allow a 3, 4, 5 or 6 year old yell at me. I have had enough experience with enough children to say that with confidence. If I can work with some hardened gang banging teens in Chicago and demand that type of respect, I believe I can demand it in my home as well. Color me naive but, I will no more allow my child to scream and yell at me any more than I will allow them to eat M&Ms as breakfast cereal. That is what I said I will not allow.

Anonymous said...

I 100% agree, that in the end, RESPECT is the name of the game. They will try to disrespect you (even if they don't realize it). they will try it more than once, in more than 1 way. And they may not come in with the hardened gang member attitude. They may come in with just the pesky "but mom" and when you say "I said no and I mean no" they may go running into their room with "Bad Mom" rolling off their lips. My 3 year old daughter is the best at this. Amazing what street smarts she has at such a young age. Way more than her 6 year old brother. It isn't something that you teach once and it's over with. It continues. When are they allowed to be 'angry' and express their feelings. At 3, you can only 'reason' and teach so much. It is like a river stone. They don't become smooth overnight.

So no M*Ms for breakfast. (Not sure where that came in on the original story) Do you give them donuts or sugar smacks cereal? Lots of sugar, just couched in a 'breakfast' theme. When you go off to a friends house and they are serving cokes, do you allow them to drink sugary drinks even though you don't at your own house. Now I go to parties and they serve juice boxes...I HATE THOSE...same sugar. Don't want my kids drinking them. (They get one glass a day usually) Do I make a big scene or just let 'em have it and go home and say, no more juice...only milk or water. It goes on and on. I didn't want my kids having lots of sugar. Grandma comes in and says 'It's only one bite'. Or I'm letting my son 'cry it out' in bed one nite. (he was young and having a fit) Grandpa comes in and picks him up. Grandma just says "It's okay, we'll be gone tomorrow". Pissed me off. do I yell at grandparents in front of kids. Does that teach them respect? (even though grandparents were disrespectful of my rules in MY HOUSE)

So, I'm just happens, over and over. I have not reached the parenting of teens yet but I fully expect disrespectful attitudes then. (maybe not to my face, who knows) What my job is, is to teach them to respect themselves and those around them. It takes a lot of time and work and just because they stop yelling at 6 doesn't mean the job is over. It may start all over again at 13. (maybe not, again each child is different)

So I'm tired of trying to make my point, just as you're tired of trying to make yours, I'm sure. So I'm going to bed. Have good nite and again, I wish you the best when your 2 get here. (smooth transition just like our son has been and lots of joyous times)


VALARIE said...

I guess I just didn't understand people getting personally offended about a post that is not about them. Just because people have different approaches to parenthood doesn't mean that those who take a hardlined stance are naive. Maybe they just bring a different set of experiences and expectations to the table.

I mentioned M&Ms because it is ridiculous to argue over giving my kids M&Ms for breakfast. I think it is just as ridiculous to argue over a child screaming and yelling at me in a disrespectful manner. If I believe that I can find a strategy for denying them M&Ms for breakfast I also believe I can find a strategy for modifying other aspects of their behavior.

The question is not whether I would let them have a coca-cola at a friends house the issue is when I tell them that they cannot have it that they go and sit down without making a scene.

For the record the teens did not have hardened attitudes. They came in with syrupy sweet con and manipulative behaviors just like the little boy in the store. They were fine until they were told not to do something.

The job is not over at six the job of a parent is never over. Again, I don't know how this became some personal kind of thing about moms. It's not. The story is not about you or your children.

I think what is more constructive is to identify strategies that work rather than arguing what can and cannot be done. It's not a competition it's a journey and everyone's experiences are valid.

Ali said...

I agree that everyone's experiences are valid and I think that is what Jan is trying to say. Anyone who has ever had another woman in a store give you and your misbehaving tot "that look" takes that feeling to heart, and I suspect that is how it got so personal. I think it is totally unacceptable to have a screaming child in a store and to just walk away. But I know how another persons murmered comments or withering looks can make you shrivel up inside and feel like the worst mom out there. That particular mom sounds like she may not have cared much, but a mom like me would be mortified and crying in her minivan on the way home. That's all I'm saying. You sound like you have some great parenting strategies and I think you are going to do really well as a mom.

VALARIE said...

I honestly think this has gotten a little silly. It makes no sense to me that any person would want to interject themselves into a story that is not about them and then play the victim.

It is not about me or my parenting skills. I will be damned if I get in my car and cry because my child misbehaves. I guess I will definitely have to chalk this one up to a HUGE cultural difference.

I have NEVER in all the parents (black parents) that I know ever heard one of them talk about a misbehaving child in this way. It is completely foreign to me. Several of my friends with children who are small and now teenagers understood the story and instantly related it to their own upbringing.

The child that dissolves a black mother to tears because of their bad behavior in public is a child that I feel a tad bit sorry for on the ride home.

Again, maybe it is purely cultural like Tami and others have said, we KNOW why other people are looking at us if our child is out of control. Because they want the child to be quiet and we do to.

I guess it is like Cedric the Entertainer said, some of us live by the hope creed, I hope little Johnny behaves in the store. Others he says live by the wish creed, I wish Johnny would go in that store and show his behind.

I guess the funny story doesn't translate as well across cultures.

graceling said...

Valerie- I agree with your position and I don't really think that, for me, there is a cultural difference between our expectations (and I anticipate- there is not much difference between our parenting strategies:) I think it takes a lot of maturity to parent effectively, as well as a lot of awareness of how you are fueling your child's behavior.

I recently realized that part of Anna's tantrums was just plain manipulation. Sure, some of it is normal toddlerhood- she knows what she thinks and feels but becomes frustrated because she can't express it (complicated by trying to learn a new language, a new culture, and a new set of social norms, too!) But the other part was that she knew that a tantrum would make me react in a certain way.

This realization led to a change in my behavior and parenting techniques. Sometimes we just don't realize what is going on until after the fact- and that was what happened with me. But once aware, I started a new tactic. 3 days later we were basically tantrum-free (still have some serious crying at bedtime, but no more of the banchee scream, thank God!)

I applaud you for thinking through and planning the way you will react and what values you will instill in your child. I agree that different children require different parenting techniques, but the standards of behavior are the same across the board.

I have gotten more than a few "looks" and mutters since I have had Anna home... and contrary to what some might think, Abigail earned me a few of them as well:) But my reaction to the looks and the muttering (and usually it does not progress to that because I am ON behavior and attitudes- and I am NOT afraid to take Anna to the bathroom or the car until she corrects her behavior) is that those looks and mutters only serve to remind me why I am working so hard- so that when my girls are adults, they don't get those looks.

At any rate, I still don't think this is a cultural thing (although, being raised in a very racially diverse neighborhood probably did instill a bit of black culture in me:)

Maybe it's a Chicago thing? :)

VALARIE said...

Thanks for the comment Grace. It is really fun on this end watching Anna adjust to her new life and new mommy. I know you have to be on guard as well because Abigail is watching.

I think as I've read the comments over and over again wanting to understand I hear some moms saying that they are more worried about the stares and comments. Like you I am more concerned about how my child will be perceived if I allow this type of behavior in my presence. What on earth will my child do when I'm not looking?

beth said...

I'm not sure it's a cultural thing either. My parents expected obedience and would not have tolerated that kind of behavior in a store. I expect obedience and do not tolerate that kind of behavior. I also do not believe in begging or bribing or cajoling my kid into doing something. Once when my kids were young (I had 5 under the age of 9)I was watching a mom with a toddler begging the kid to get in the fancy car cart. The kid was a brat and the mother looked exhausted and frustrated. I was just so glad that I enjoyed my kids because they were obedient and that my trips to the store weren't a frustration (even with all 5) I also just expected them to ride in the grocery cart (well, 2 of them - we would push/pull 2 carts and the littlest would ride in the seats) Anyway, that was when my special needs son (diagnosed as moderate mentally retarded) was young (around 2) Now he's very different and COMPLETELY different than my other kids. From the age of 2 they could sit through an entire church service and be expected to be quiet (without cheerios and a juice box) But, at 12, he has trouble sitting still for 20 min. The same parenting methods don't work for him. He doesn't remember consequences so you say "I would continue leaving the store" and my response would be he wouldn't care. You can spank him and he doesn't care, you can take privledges away and he doesn't care. You say that you would feel bad for that kid on the car ride home and my response would be Yeah, but he wouldn't remember it the next time.

All this is just to say. I agree with you. I hate to see ineffective parenting and I mostly hate it because it makes parents not like to be with their kids instead of enjoying them. But, I also know what it feels like to be that mom with the screaming kid that you're trying to drag out and believe me, that's no fun!!

You just never know. I personally believe God gave me this son to deal with my pride.

I don't feel the victim and I don't take your observation of the store scene personally. I just wanted to present to you an example of how sometimes it's just not what it seems and it stinks when people judge. I'm not worried about the stares - I've got to do, what's right for my kid. But it just adds something stinky to an already difficult situation.

And, by the way, if you have any ideas re: my son, I'm up for them. We are now just trying to be 100% consistent and also trying to ramp up the positive.


VALARIE said...

Beth, the situation you describe is not the situation that I describe. When I talked about discipline I was not talking about a special needs child.

I appreciate your example but I'm not at all confused about that. I am talking about a 4 or 5 year old brat period.

So, I'm not sure how this really applies. But ever families has to figure out what is best for them, they don't have to convince me. It's seems that this has become more about help Valarie understand what it's like to be a parent. I'm not really confused, I've been dealing with everyone else's kids for 25 years so parenting is not a new experience for me.

I don't suggest that the answers are one size fits all and I definitely don't think that it's easy. One thing I will tell you is that the last thing I would care about was what some stranger in the store was thinking. My only focus and concern would be on the child in my care, the one that I was raising and how his life would be impacted by my style of parenting.

For the record most of my shopping will be done sans child in the early months.

Debbie said...


First of all, I faithfully read your blog, but this is the first time I've commented. I guess that means you have 7 faithful readers :-)

I enjoyed your post and explanation of the scenes you witnessed. My boys are all grown and I've started all over now having a daughter who is almost 18 months and waiting on another daughter from Ethiopia. What I appreciated most in your post is to know that no matter what color our skin may be, as mothers we all experience many of the same challenges in parenting. My oldest son has Autism, so I can appreciate the woman who commented on her son's melt down over hearing the basketball buzzer for the first time. However, I can also appreciate those scenes in the store when for whatever reason one of my children was having a complete melt-down over something. I can't begin to count the number of times I ended a shopping trip and left the store with nothing or cut a trip short with only a portion of what I went out to get in the first place. Part of our responsibility as parents is to teach our children appropriate public behavior. Believe me, I understand how challenging that can be when you have a child with special needs who just doesn't seem to get it. However, I also discovered that by being consistant and providing those opportunities for my children to learn those appropriate behaviors, they did eventually get it. It took longer, but even my son with Autism got it and can now make it through an outing with success.

Thanks for posting your thoughts and feelings on various subjects. We are all individuals with differing viewpoints, but I for one appreciate and respect your viewpoint regardless if I always agree. That's one way I am able to learn and grow as an individual.

waitingarms said...


I totally got your annoyance at the way the mother handled the situation in the store! It is interesting what we each take from the same information presented to us! Before I had a child, I had clear expectations of how I wanted my children to behave and what would or would not be acceptable. Yes, it is a growing and learning process, but I have not changed my expectations. My son started throwing tantrums at two, but during his well baby visit, his pediatrian had already advised us what to do when the tantrums came. He advised us so long as my son was in safe environment and could not hurt himself, to walk away and totally ignore him. My son only tried getting his way three times using a temper tantrum and after we were consisted those three times (though my heart was breaking), that was the end of tantrums. He learnt real fast that would not work with us. My husband commented the other day how proud he is that my son never gives anyone a hard time asking for toys in the store. I was surprised because I had never really thought about it. My son learnt from an early age that a no from mommy regarding a request for a toy really did mean no. He may occasionally ask to look at toys and may also ask if I could buy him one, but he totally accepts my answer--no tantrums, no long face, just okay or a request maybe for his birthday. My son is real clear what to expect when we go to the store--I needed to leave the store twice when he was misbehaving and trying to have a cryfest. He was appropriately punished for it. He also learnt real quick who the parent is and how he is expected to behave while out in public. When he was one and a ball of energy and practicing for the 100m in the olympics, I simply minimized the times I took him out shopping. I think we bought into all the pop psychology and decided that we were smarter than our parents and could do a better job of parenting by parenting differently based on all the "experts". Look at what this has produced! Ungrateful, disrespectful, ill-behaved brats and parents who parent with guilt and take such pains to make excuses for their children. I think we owe society a duty to raise well mannered respectful children. Simply because some methods will not work on some children does not mean we should not set the bar high and expect respect and good behavior. Maybe we can even admit that our parents were on to something and borrow a leaf from them! Anyway, just my two cents worth! I have been a stalker for a while and thought I would be commenting to congratulate you when you shared more about your babies!

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]