"But I wanted PIZZZZZZAAAAA!!!" he wailed across the restaurant filled with customers. "But you ordered tomato soup," I reminded him for the fifth time while gesturing to the soup and bread set in front of him. "It's here. We can't take it back." Despite my feeble attempts to reason with a three-year-old, he wasn't buying it. (What was I thinking anyway??) He cried. He flung his body down onto the booth. If I looked closely enough, I might have seen some gnashing of teeth. He was full-on, full-body, full-volume mourning the pizza that was meant to be his and the injustice of it all. He was also what people without children (who surrounded us) or people who believe children 'misbehave' to manipulate others would call "making a scene."
I attempted to show empathy. "You wanted tomato soup but you changed your mind after we ordered because you really wanted pizza. That is disappointing." I attempted to reason. "We can't give the food back. You can order pizza next time." Most importantly, I focused on my own breathing while I noticed my triggers making my body feel hot, my arms feel shaky, and my heart race. I knew that if I let my fear of what others' thought or my frustration that he was "acting out" get the best of me, I would say or do things that would leave him feeling powerless, hurt, and disconnected. My main focus was on helping us both to calm our bodies when overwhelmed, problem solve, and learn to deal with life's minor disappointments in a healthy way. If I ended up eating my sandwich in the car ride home, it would be worth it to see this one through.
So... I scooped him up and walked out of the restaurant. I told my husband and older son we would be back and reassured my Littlest One that he was not 'in trouble' and that we were just going to go get some fresh air and talk about it. I sat on a bench with him facing me on my lap. He started growling and yelling, "Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!" I quietly and gently said, "You really wanted pizza, didn't you." "Yes! And I am going to get it!!" he replied. "I hear that you really want it, so let's think about how we can solve this problem." (He stopped crying and looked at me with interest.) "We can get pizza here the next time we come or order delivery. Or we can cook pizza at home tomorrow for dinner. What do you think?" He began crying again, "NO! I want pizza here now!" "I know," I reassured him. "I know it is disappointing you can't get it today since we already spent our lunch money on tomato soup. That is frustrating that you can't have it. But, we can make a plan to get pizza another time." This back and forth went on a few more times and he would repeat "Pizza!", cry some more, and I would rub his back and talk soothingly to him as he mourned the pizza that he wanted, but could not have.
After a few minutes, I could sense that he was coming to the end of his despair. I playfully started saying silly rhyming words each time he said "Pizza!" I tested this cautiously to see if he had fully expressed his big emotions. I was prepared to stop making jokes and comfort him longer if he got angry. However, when he laughed at me saying, "Did you say Meetza?!?" I knew that he was ready to listen to my words and problem solve. "Hey...do you want to stay out here until Daddy and brother are done or do you want to go in and eat? Not pizza...but second best. Tomato soup and bread!" He shied away from telling me, so I knew he needed a non-verbal way of letting me know he was ready to move on. I encouraged him to push my hands if he wanted to go inside or pull my hands if he wanted to stay outside forever. (A little silly drama to help keep the mood light...) He gave my hands a push and I scooped him up for a big hug and we walked inside together.
He began to eat his tomato soup and my intuitive husband didn't ask anything about what happened outside and we didn't offer any details. What was done was done and we were ready to move on. No grudges, no shaming, no lectures or reliving all of the dramatic details. Just a little boy happily eating his soup and his parents giving each other invisible high fives for choosing patience, love, and connection over fear and control. And you know what? The little guy chose to have leftover tomato soup for dinner that night as well.
This article was originally posted on my blog.
Amber Sparks is a pizza-loving mama with two boys ages four and six. When not deep breathing over pizza tantrums, she can be found teaching Parent/Child yoga classes, homeschooling her two sons, or wandering down a nature trail. She blogs about her adventures at Heart Wanderings.