You and your three-year-old were having a good day. Then, you decided to grocery shop. You turned your cart down the cereal aisle, and that’s when it all started. “Mommy, I want ___insert name of sugary, nutrition-free cereal here___.” As you say “no”, your sweet child moves from a polite request to a whiney begging. “Moooommmy! I waaaaaaant it! Pleeeeeeeaase?” Ultimately, she proceeds to angry insistence (”No! I WANT it!”) and/or heartbroken despair (wails and sobs). You contemplate your options: get out of the grocery store as quickly as possible, ignore the scene and continue shopping as if all was normal, redirect your child’s behavior in public, or given it to your child’s will and get the desired cereal. How did you get in this situation? How can you get out of this situation? And, the really big question: how can you prevent a recurrence of this situation? And…what if you were the babysitter shopping with the child?

How did you get in this situation?

Marketing. That’s the answer. We are bombarded with marketing messages via the television, radio, computer, billboards, and myriad other sources. Kids are especially susceptible to marketing messages. Sugary, nutrition-free cereals are good! They are fun! They are cool! Your kids see and hear these messages, and they are convinced.

How can you get out of this situation?

Now that you’re already in it, the best way to address your current situation is to stay the course on your “no”, get only the remaining essentials on your shopping list, and make a hasty exit from the grocery store. Once you are in the comfort and privacy of your car, you can speak with your child about what behaviors you expect from her . . . and why those expectations are important. You will likely need to repeat this conversation several times as the situation warrants.

How can you prevent a recurrence of this situation?

Well, you can do your best to limit your child’s exposure to marketing messages. However, those messages are everywhere, so be mindful that you can sell your televisions and radios, but the marketing messages will still come through by other means. Therefore, you need to set appropriate boundaries and consistently reinforce those boundaries. For example, you can say, “Sweetie, we are going to the grocery store in a few minutes. You will be able to choose one item yourself. As your mom, I will assess if the item you’ve chosen is appropriate. If is it, it’s yours. If not, then we can find a compromise. Ok?” That way, if your child chooses the largest chocolate bar that you’ve ever seen, you can compromise with her by offering her a standard size chocolate bar. If she fusses, offer her an “upgrade” (i.e., a chocolate bar with nuts in it).

By following these steps, you can handle your current grocery store trauma well and prevent any future grocery store traumas as well. Happy shopping!