The kids really just don’t listen yet, so telling them to sit down when they’re in a wagon or trying to get out of a stroller or cart is like talking to a wall.
–Amy, mom of boy/girl twins

Shortly after multiples turn one, many parents realize that the days of plopping their infant car seats into the stroller and getting in a quick hour of shopping while the babies take a little catnap are over. Babies at this age aren’t always altogether happy at the mall, or the dry cleaners, or Blockbuster, or the grocery store, or anywhere else where they are confined and bored. And they convey this in no uncertain terms.

While they may not be able to actually unfasten their stroller belts, they might do everything else in their power to get out. Whether toddlers choose kicking and screaming, violently jostling themselves left to right in an apparent attempt to break the belts, bothering the sibling to such a degree that the sibling starts to pitch a gigantic fit, trying to climb out of the stroller, or grabbing and throwing anything within reach into orbit (or, heaven forbid, at other customers), parents often begin to wonder whether or not it’s even worth it to attempt to go out with the kids at this age.


The Real Deal on Public Tantrums

The real challenge with public tantrums is the fact that at this young age, kids don’t yet reason very well. Bribery and threats have zero effect, so the promise of an extra-huge sundae or, conversely, the loss of dessert, means nothing to them. If it makes you feel any better, when Jack and Henry were four, there were still occasions (though far fewer, don’t worry) when they pitched a fit in a store.

At least take comfort in the fact that when kids are young, they’re usually confined. Some of the most uncomfortable tirades have ensued when our kids were older and I had to remove a privilege in, say, the feminine hygiene aisle because one of them was refusing to stand still for six seconds and instead insisting that his brother go long to catch a box of super absorbent winged Kotex Hail-Mary style (which their sister was trying to intercept).

Venturing out with twin toddlers

Dealing with “Your Public”

As I’ve learned, other adults—typically those without children—may look at you somewhat condescendingly when your child (or children) is having a public tantrum at any age. Other adults shopping along either completely understand because they have been there, or they’ll give you “the look”—either because they have no children or because they are in denial regarding the way their own children behaved thirty years ago.

If you avoid eye contact and train your vision on the location of the next item on your list (you’re on a mission at this point), you won’t know of their reaction either way. But believe me, far more of them take pity on you when the kids are under two than when they’re four. So, at least take comfort in that when an episode presents itself when your children are under the age of three.

Simultaneous Tantrum Management

Question: “What do I do when they are simultaneously throwing tantrums in public?”

Answer: at this age, if they are in a stroller or cart, just keep going.

Seriously, they’ll get over themselves. Give them a few minutes and they’ll find something interesting to point at (and then possibly demand, provoking another tantrum when you say “No,” but at least the issue has changed), or they’ll get tired of their own voice. Okay, the latter isn’t likely, but optimism is the best medicine sometimes.

Should your children be walking with you in a place like the grocery store—meaning that they are probably closer to two years of age or on the other side of their second birthday—and throw a simultaneous tantrum, just stand there. This has happened to me on only a few occasions (none of them pretty). My approach has always been to stand there, announce that when they could get themselves together we’d continue shopping, and wait (and giggle as I thought about how I would regale their future potential spouses with this story the first time I met them).

Should they be disturbing other shoppers in some way, consider utilizing the approach I resorted to once: Operation Lift and Leave (described shortly). But if you’re on your own in the dairy section, give it a minute and see if you can find a way to finish your shopping.

Should they throw simultaneous tantrums while walking in a place such as the mall, vow never to let them out of the stroller again until they are older! In the short term, do what you have to do to get them back into the stroller and get yourself to the car. I can pretty much guarantee that the only chance you have of getting them to regroup so that you can finish your search for a bra that actually fits is finding the nearest food venue and getting them something on the no-no list (french fries work every time).

Containing the Kids

As for keeping kids organized when they are not confined to a stroller or cart, I have one big piece of advice: you can’t. When they are infants or toddlers, I strongly suggest keeping them confined to a stroller or cart—at least while shopping. We have a grocery store nearby that has carts with tandem child seats, and we were able to use those with success for a while—until the kid in back learned that he could annoy the bejeepers out of the kid in front.

Our Costco has side-by-side child seats, which worked well for a while—again until the boys realized they could go to war in the frozen foods section. We tried the carts with the kid benches attached that allowed the boys to either sit side by side facing forward or sit diagonally across from one another.

These last two were the worst options in our case because until the sport of intra-cart fighting lost its appeal (which it did), they truly did just hit each or steal each other’s toy-of-the-moment the entire time. This type of cart is also quite large, and in my opinion, should require a license to drive. I noted as much one day to another mom who was struggling to get her tractor-trailer-sized cart by another normal-sized cart. Her response: “Yeah, and a turn signal would be helpful as well!”

Some moms have great success with these sorts of arrangements, so I’d encourage you to give them a try. Even if they only work once, that makes for one successful trip. Just know that if they do not work, or if at any time they cease working, you are not alone.

The only foolproof method I’m aware of to keep kids organized when in public (and not in a stroller or cart) is to leash them.

You know, I’m all for each parent choosing what works best for him or her. At the same time, as anyone who knows me will attest, I have no problem sharing my opinions on virtually any subject. I am an information gatherer to the core, so I’ll listen until the cows come home to anyone who claims to know something about anything, and then I’ll decide whether or not any of it makes sense to me and might be worth exploring further. That’s how we figure out who we are as parents and as people; we take in a lot of information, weed out the stuff that doesn’t work for us, incorporate the stuff that does, and go to bed feeling A-OK about the job we’re doing.

Unfortunately, no one has ever tried to tout the benefits of the human leash to me. Therefore, I must convey my position on it based purely on my own opinion, which is that it is, in the vast majority of applications, nothing short of inhumane.

That said, there are two settings in which I can get to a place of understanding regarding its value: busy airports and Walt Disney World. Venues that contain hordes of people as well as the potential for you to become distracted for a split second (either to stop someone from pilfering your luggage or to consult your map of the Magic Kingdom to ensure you are indeed headed toward the infamous and ever-popular Dumbo ride) certainly might provide a viable reason to utilize this sort of a contraption to keep your children safe.

I’ve braved busy airports with four kids and I’ve braved Walt Disney World with them and, frankly, there have been moments during both excursions when it might have been a good idea for my husband to have me on a leash. If having a way to ensure that your children stay with you at all times will make the difference between traveling and not, please purchase an aesthetically pleasing toddler tether.

What gets me particularly crazy is when I see leashes in use in malls, grocery stores, and parks. Yes, I’ve seen them in use at parks. Once, I even saw one in use at a mothers’ group meeting. Honestly, the kid moved and the mother tugged. I half expected her to pull out a dog bowl instead of a sippy cup. The only thing more ridiculous in my mind than a kid on a leash is a parent being dragged by a kid on a leash, which I have witnessed at the mall on more than one occasion.

I ask you, if your children aren’t responding to your verbal request to stay by your side, do you really think they are going to act differently once you put this apparatus on them? When you’ve reached the point where you have to tug on a kid (or kids) every six seconds as though he were a canine, ask yourself, does it possibly make sense to find a way to run this particular errand in the evening or on the weekend? I say yes, it does.

Apparently parents and manufacturers alike felt as though the marketing angle on this device needed tweaking, so now many tethers are being made to look like stuffed animal backpacks, and part of the advertising includes the benefit that your child can use the animal’s head as a pillow. When? While he’s attempting to run away from you?

If your child is calm enough to lay his head back on this “pillow” while walking next to you, I’m thinking you don’t need a leash. But if you’re trying to get through a crowded airport without losing anybody, and to passersby your child appears to be resting his weary head on the top of his monkey backpack (until one notices you or your husband holding on to the monkey’s tail), it’s a far preferable look than a plain, sterile-looking harness, which is how they were initially manufactured.

Know When to Call It a Day

A situation in which you’ll have to intervene is when your kids are outside of their stroller or cart and blocking traffic. This did occur once in my case. The boys were weeks from turning two and after they asked to get out of their side-by-side cart bench for the thirty-seventh time, I thought, “Well, maybe it’ll be okay.” After all, they were almost two and I had only five or so more items to get.

We were in the cookie aisle. Do you really need an explanation of what happened next? Honestly, I should have just handed each kid the bag of cookies he requested, but for some reason (apparently I remembered to put on pants that day but left my brain at home on a hanger) I said, “No.” Not wise. They were lying head to head, each with his feet touching opposite sides of the aisle. So, when the fifty-nine-year-old woman—who apparently had never had children or, as I said, was in denial over the fact that her children had ever done anything like this—suddenly started heading our way, I had to do something.

I picked them both up—one under each arm—told Grace to follow (thank God she followed most directions by that point without asking a lot of questions (or perhaps just recognized a real crisis when one presented itself), and I left. I felt horrible, and I wanted to go back later and help someone put back all my non-perishable items. It was my number one Lesson of the Week. They just were not ready to join me on foot during shopping expeditions.

There was no recovering from the tantrum they were having, and I knew it. I know I’m not the only one who’s been in such a boat because I’ve seen a few other fully loaded and clearly abandoned carts before and since. There are times, however, when you’ve got to admit that you’re past the point of no return, whether your kids are lying head to head in the grocery aisle or leaning out of the cart on opposite sides wailing and grabbing everything within reach (or smacking their heads on clothing displays and therefore screaming even louder). At that point, it’s best to just leave. With any luck, this won’t happen more than once because you won’t be willing to test fate again until you are darn sure you’ll make it out with the contents of your cart!

For many parents of multiples, there comes a period of time during the second year when it makes more sense to run certain errands in the evening or on weekends when an adult can go alone. Yes, this can make a day feel longer. I often met David in the driveway when he arrived home from work, not so much because I needed to get out for a while, but because I needed to leave right then in order to get home before it was the next day already.

It was frustrating at the time, but in hindsight, it wasn’t long before the kids could be entertained in some way when we were out, and I was able to do my grocery shopping or make a quick trip to the mall with no problem whatsoever.

Accept that there will be bad days, and remember that there will be good days. Just because you can’t take them to the Gap on Monday doesn’t mean that a trip to the same store the next Monday won’t go swimmingly. Every day is a new day and with it comes the renewed possibility for sanity.

by Elizabeth Lyons