Parenting Lessons from A Child’s Grocery Store Tantrum

It happened in front of the doughnut case. Need I say more?

The mom was pushing the preschool-aged boy in the play-car grocery cart, while her husband and their older child walked along beside.

“I want a doughnut!” declared the young child.

Me too, buddy, I thought. Me too.

The mom said no, and that is when the yelling began. It went something like this and lasted up and down every aisle of the grocery store from then on: “I want a doughnut! I want a doughnut! I want a doughnut!”

The dad said no. The screaming continued.

“Just a second,” said the mom, and she walked back to the doughnut case. When she returned to the cart, she told the child, “There aren’t any doughnuts. They’re all gone.”

The boy and I weren’t falling for this lie, however, since both of us had just observed the full doughnut case.

“I want a doughnut!” he yelled.

The dad did nothing more. The mom did nothing more. They kept walking and shopping while the child continued to wail his demand.

The Rule

I’ve seen numerous interactions like this over the years, so I know this family wasn’t the only one ever to have a child screaming for something he wants in the grocery. Maybe you’ve also experienced something like this, and you’re thinking, What in the world can I do to stop a tantrum like that? I’m going to offer you my perspective, and I hope it helps.

The biggest rule is never to allow your children to ask for things in the grocery store.

My children were not permitted to ask me to buy them something when we went shopping. In fact, they got in trouble if they even asked. There were a few reasons for this rule. First, we lived hand-to-mouth. I made a grocery list that included only necessary food items, and it was a stretch to have enough money just to pay for those. We didn’t have money for frills.

A more profound reason for this rule, however, was that I wanted my children to grow in contentment. They were going to have food to eat, and that was enough. No, they did not need gum. No, they did not need doughnuts. (I preached that one to myself as well!) No, they did not need anything from the toy aisle. They had enough. We went to the store for food, and that was all we were going to buy.

Teaching Contentment

Paul says this:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  (Philippians 4:11b  ESV)

I wanted my children to learn this lesson.

Do you see the importance of making a shopping list? You can show this to your child and say, “We’re only buying these things we need. Nothing more.”

Not only were my kids not allowed to ask for anything, they were also not allowed to touch anything. They could look and enjoy things with their eyes but never with their hands. I believe this physical rule reinforced the heart rule: Do not reach for things you do not need.

My kids never threw a tantrum in the store, because they never expected to get anything there.

Now let me tell you the fun news –I did buy my children things at the grocery store sometimes. On occasion, I would say, “Would you like to choose a doughnut for a treat today?” What a great celebration was had by all. Or sometimes I would surprise them and say, “You may pick one candy today.” But these events were very few and far between, so they never came to expect them as the norm.

Being Prepared

Sometimes children melt down, despite our best efforts, but for the most part you can take action to prevent tantrums. If you’ve been indulging your kids, prepare them well before your next trip to the store. Make sure you explain why they may no longer ask for things. It may take some time before they catch on, but it’s going to be worth the change.

May the Lord bring peace to your shopping trips.

Christy Fitzwater



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