The Best Way to Handle a Child’s Fit

When young families first arrive in town for vacation, they come directly from the airport to the store to get groceries for the next week. After a long day of travel, the kids are exhausted and prone to fits, and so are the parents.  I often hear the tired cries of babies erupting throughout the store. I sympathize because I’ve had my times of being tired and cranky too, and so I try to stay courteous as I get the families through the line quickly.  

Some of those fit-throwers stand out in my memory because of the way the adults handled the situation.

Photo by Mitya Zotov on

I remember one particular child who was pitching a lulu—screaming, grabbing things off the rack, colliding with other people.  The tired mom tried several techniques as she unloaded her groceries onto the conveyer belt: an angry glare, threats of no candy, no pool time, and no Mickey.  Finally, she gave up and tried to ignore him as she paid for her purchase. 

An old guy stood behind the boy and watched quietly.  He was tall, with a weathered face and a working man’s hands.  Before placing his groceries onto the conveyer belt, he took the little bar that divides the customers’ groceries and slammed it down, startling the boy into silence.  He looked up, and the old guy loomed over him, offering a friendly gaze.  The child remained quiet and wide-eyed while the mom gathered her groceries, took the boy’s hand, and left. As she exited, she glanced over her shoulder to give the man a grateful look.

I also sympathized with the way another mom handled her obnoxious kid. He was a plump fellow and too old to be riding in the grocery cart—he took up most of the room intended for purchases. With his big boy lungs, he kept yelling at his parents to let him buy something. 

“Give me five dollars, give me five dollars, give me five dollars, GIVE ME FIVE DOLLARS!

The parents did their best to ignore him until the mother had enough. She whirled from the self-checkout screen and shimmered with intensity as she said:

“Say that one more time.”

The message was received. The boy crossed his arms, frowned, snorted, and sputtered, but remained wordless. Evidently, he wasn’t as dumb as he looked.   

My favorite kid moment was between a father and his small child.  The kid was beyond exhausted, crying and screaming. The dad looked tired, but he stayed calm and spoke soothingly to his boy.

“I’m going to count to three,” he said. 

I thought he would use that technique that never works where you raise the threat level with each number. But instead, he used it as a relaxation technique to help his child get calm. 

“One,” he said softly, “Everything is ok.”

“Two, you’re feeling better.”

“Three, you’re getting quieter.”

It didn’t work, so he tried it again. And then again. Not once did the dad raise his voice to the screaming child. 

It would be a great story if I told you that the kid got calm and quiet, but he didn’t, at least not in the store. He was just too overextended. The dad picked him up gently and smiled at me as he left his purchases and walked out the door.

I admire how restrained the father was.  

The next day, they were back.  This time the boy looked rested and calm. I said, “I remember you. How do you feel today?” He smiled shyly. 

“He was very tired last night, wasn’t he?” I said to the father, who sighed and nodded with a bemused look. I think maybe he was still tired from the night before.

“I think you’re the best father in the world,” I said. “I wish I had been more like you while raising my kids.”

In fact, I wish all parents could be as gentle with their kids as this dad was.

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