Helen, my situation keeps getting more and more complicated. More than once, I have had a situation while I am outside with my 2-year-old daughter in a public place, such as the shopping center or supermarket, where she starts acting out, making a fit and crying. Usually some unknown person approaches her and starts to discipline her. This especially happens when we are in a store and I do not want to buy her a certain item. Someone immediately comes over and starts lecturing her. It really bothers me and it only makes the situation worse. I feel like a failure of a parent. What should I do in such situations and how should I treat that person?
The essence of the problem that you specified is not in how you will react to someone who is interfering as you interact with your child and is criticizing your daughter, rather it lies in the fact that you feel powerless to control the behavior of your child, which results in your personal sense of “failure” as a parent. When you restore a sense of competence as a parent, you won’t have a problem to politely, but firmly, let these people know that their interference is not suitable for you and that you have everything under control (that is, you are applying educational methods that they don’t necessarily understand or approve of). The point is, therefore, to work on changing the child’s behavior that will result in increasing your confidence as a parent (and therefore reduce the child’s tantrums in public, as well as opportunities for others to “intervene”). As you may have already realized, with such behavior your child manifests her disapproval of your failure to comply with her current wishes, but at the same time she is testing the limits to which she can go. Children quickly learn which behavior can produce the easiest results in their wishes with their parents. Even when their negative behavior causes a reaction and they get criticism, they feel it’s better to receive any reaction rather than none. Proper manners, however, means that a parent is teaching a child how to properly behave in a certain situation, or how to act in a socially acceptable manner. One of the discipline techniques that has good results (especially with younger children) is to ignore the child – the parent does not respond to certain actions that exceed the limit of tolerance (this of course, can only be used in situations where this approach is not dangerous for the child). The child’s reactions to this behavior can be quite dramatic at first (resulting in an even stronger response, rolling around and resentment), but it is important to remain consistent. After a certain period of time (with a lot of patience and consistency) success will follow. Also, a very important technique is positive reinforcement of desired behavior in children. Each time the child is behaving appropriately (in cases during which they previously acted unacceptably), the good behavior should be praised. Once you get success in regulating the child’s behavior, you will return a sense of personal control and be able to successfully handle unwanted interventions of strangers.