It's the end of a long day and you arrive at the supermarket with your pre-schooler and a shopping list. You know it's not a good idea, but sometimes you don't have any choice.
First there's the trolley fight. Which model will you choose? The conventional one or the bright yellow model that plays songs, costs $2 and automatically locks the minute you step out of the building? Predictably you and your child disagree. You compromise. You get the free, mobile trolley and your child gets to range alongside.
As your child depopulates shelves, you cycle through good humour, firmness, distraction and bribery. You rescue countless breakable items and refuse unnecessary ones. Eventually, you lift your protesting, squirming explorer under one arm while you hastily clear a space to put them in the trolley.
You're embarrassed, out of breath, and tired. You glare at your child and they glare right back. Unhampered by the gathering audience, your tired, frustrated toddler gives voice to their complaint. "But I NEED the Pooh Bear Yoghurt!" They begin to howl. Their cries are loud, uninhibited and heartbreaking.
Impasse! Without some help your prospects of getting the shopping finished and keeping your child safe are rapidly diminishing. Do you abandon the shopping, walk away from your child, or potentially do them some serious harm?
Talk to any parent who has taken young children shopping and they will have their own hair-tearing stories to tell. You're not alone in this experience and it doesn't make you a bad parent.
Who hasn't shuffled awkwardly about the aisles as someone else's child has let rip ? You wonder if you should 'do something' and what on earth that something might be. You dismiss most of the options as impractical.
There are some reasons why you should 'do something',and do it quickly.
Safety is the most pressing concern. This is a situation where parent and child alike can, in desperation, completely lose control. It's a short step for the parent to shake, slap or smack their child. Isn't it better to 'interfere' than let that happen?
When you bypass your own embarrassment and 'do something', you let the parent know they are not on their own. You help to diffuse the tension by treating it as difficult but ordinary.
Some people have had great success with talking directly to the child. "What a big voice you've got. What have you got in your trolley? Are you having those for your dinner?" It may not be important what you say so long as the tone is calm, interested and friendly. You may distract the child, giving the parent a chance to shift to a different tone. You may simply make the parent seem a safer, more desirable option. In either case you stand a good chance of diffusing the situation.
Sometimes offering to take the shopping list and collect the items might work. Or offering your place at the head of the checkout queue is another practical option. Let both the parent and the child know that you are sympathising, not judging.
Safety isn't something you can be neutral about. Everyone has a contribution to make to keeping children safe.