We all know what happens next; the predictable choreography of polite smiles and head nods as every customer in line vies for that coveted spot. This time, I was the lucky one (I think the chatty toddler and sleeping newborn earned me the sympathy vote). Accompanied by several good natured variations of the phrase ‘Go ahead, you’ve got your hands full,’ I took two steps backward into the newly open check out queue. No sooner had my first item beeped across the scanner when a voice boomed:
“What the (Insert F-bomb here)?”
The counter shook as an obviously irate woman rounded the corner, threw her items onto the conveyor belt behind me, and then dropped another “effie” my way. Every head in the store turned to see what I would do…including the tiny head of my two-year-old daughter. I saw fear in her eyes which were now as round as the “keep quiet in the store” cookie she was eating.
“Mommy?” She questioned in a watery voice as she flinched and cowered behind my arm.
I’ll stop short of going Palin-esque and calling myself a Mamma Grizzly, but I was filled with a base rage that had to come from some sort of primitive, protective instinct. How dare this woman? Throw things? Shout the F-word in front of my children? Make my little girl cry? And all over a spot in line?
I knew I only had a moment to react before my mouth took over like it always does and wrote the proverbial check that my you-know-what wouldn’t be able to cash. Thankfully, I got a hold of myself and calmly (but still with enough volume for everyone to hear) comforted my daughter, explaining the mad lady was not very nice and was having a bad day. My hopes of shaming the woman into Shut-ups-ville were quickly dashed as she continued yelling, accusing me of “butting” in line.
I turned to the cashier for assistance. He looked young enough to still have a curfew and his face had turned as uncomfortably red as his work shirt. Clearly I’d get no help there. Instead, I looked Ms. No Manners right in the eye, forced some confidence into my voice and advised her I did not appreciate the way she was acting in front of my kids. Thankfully, she buttoned her lip and the “discussion” ended there.
“Should I have just ignored her?” I wondered as I replayed the scene over and over again in my head that night. The adrenaline had long since dissipated and was replaced with self doubt. I thought of all the times my mouth has gotten me into trouble over the years. Let’s just call it a personality quirk that I certainly don’t want to pass on to my girls. But, I don’t ever want them to think they should be intimidated by a bully either. Was this the right way to go? If I’m not certain how to handle another’s bad behavior after 34 years of human interaction, how do I teach my daughters what to do on the playground or in school?
“If your toddler witnesses you pacify an aggressive person with an even and calm tone, they are likely to engage in that behavior when confronted with a play date bully,” says Dr. Andrew Scherff, PhD, Certified School Psychologist. “As we grow into toddlers and have more ability to interact with our environment and analyze situations, the learning process becomes more involved. Toddlers can begin to model the behavior of others, most noticeably their parents.”
Believe me when I tell you I soooo could have thought of a million petty ways to insult that woman. But that would have only taught my girls how to cleverly tell off Mommy from the time out chair.
Adds Dr. Scherff, “The somewhat intimidating realization inherent in this is that your children are always watching and learning from your actions, whether you want them to or not. This does not mean that your toddler will be a carbon copy of you, rather if the modeled behavior results in a positive outcome for the toddler that modeled behavior will likely continue.”
So it’s up to us parents to jump on the learning train and help the kids stay on track. Here are some effective tips I’ve picked up from some pretty smart moms:
1.) Take stock of your own social skills. Do you roll your eyes or sigh loudly when made to wait at McDonalds? Do you remember to say ‘Thank You’ when someone holds the door for you? Recognizing our own behavioral shortcomings and taking steps to correct them is a great way to pass along good manners to our kids.
2.) Role play games like “store,” “restaurant,” or “telephone,” are wonderful opportunities to model appropriate social behavior. Then encourage your child to show off their good manners while you run errands. Watch those compliments fly and be sure to add your own to the mix.
3.) When you encounter another’s bad behavior or get caught in your own, address it with your child. Talk about what made that particular behavior unacceptable and how it could have been handled differently. Admitting your mistake, even apologizing can go a long way to counteract a Mommy faux pas like cursing in the car.
4.) Let your child know that it’s OK to stick up for herself. I know I’ve been guilty of this one! At play dates, I used to get so worried about everyone getting along, that I found myself telling my daughter to “stop being so dramatic” if she cried after getting robbed of a toy or harmlessly pushed. Now I empower her to say things like “I don’t like pushing,” or “We don’t hit our friends.”
5.) Don’t discourage a tattle tale. Let them report any perceived bad behavior. You may not care that Kelly’s brother said the “s” word, but he may do something else in the future that will make you shudder. If your child is constantly told to button her lip, you might miss something dangerously important.
6.) Adopt new, g-rated “swear” words into your vocabulary. Sometimes life calls for expletives. Shucks and phooey are worlds better than their shocking older siblings. If you need help finding some, I recommend Mickey’s Clubhouse. Goofy “curses” like a trucker!
You certainly won’t be your child’s only teacher, after all, there’s still the lady in the check out line to contend with. Just hang on to hope and this last piece of advice from Dr. Scherff: “Modeling appropriate behavior at home, at the store, and in the car, as well as positively reinforcing those behaviors when we observe them in our children is the most effective way to get them ready for school and out into the real world.”
Montco Mom Heather is a former pediatric nurse turned mom to two lovely little ladies.