Every single spring, on some listserv or moms group or forum I’m on, somebody complains about the reappearance of the ice cream trucks and slushie carts in Brooklyn. This year, since it happened on the much-maligned Park Slope Parents listserv, it’s getting a lot of attention. Everyone from the San Francisco Chronicle to my friend Marinka (writing on Babble’s MomCrunch) to some Park Slope Parents members themselves (with a hilarious parody clarification) have been writing about this latest bit of whining from parents who blame the rest of the world because they have trouble saying “no” effectively to their kids.
The specific complaint that started the brouhaha involved carts entering the actual playground, and personally, I think that sucks. I get aggravated when anybody comes into the playground to sell anything. Most days in good weather we get pestered to buy slushies, cold water, balloons, stuffed animals, and cotton candy. My problem with this is that those people simply aren’t allowed in NYC playgrounds. If you’re not there with a kid, you’re there illegally. I’m sure you’re breaking other rules about vending inside the playground as well, but I just care about the rule that keeps creepy loners in trench coats out. So anybody who wants to ban selling anything within the wrought-iron-fenced confines of the actual city playgrounds, you’ve got my support.
But the original complaint – and many following – struck a different nerve with me, because the mom claimed that her trip to the playground was “ruined” and that she eventually had to leave with a crying four-year-old. All because he couldn’t have any of the Italian Ice and other treats being sold.
I’m sorry, but those vendors did not ruin her trip. She did, by not preparing her child for not getting what he wanted. Do all kids throw tantrums sometimes? Of course. But this mom’s reaction – we have to ban the thing that made my kid cry – speaks volumes about the sense of entitlement some parents have, and predicts how much trouble they will have down the road if they don’t deal with problems by dealing with their kids.
There will always be something a child wants and can’t have. If you get rid of the ice cream trucks, something else will pop up in their place. If your reaction every time is to shift the world to fit your kid, your job will never get any easier. You have to have a game plan to deal with these things as they come, instead of trying to dodge them.
Until my oldest was five we lived right next door to our neighborhood’s most popular playground. It was like an extension of our apartment, and we were there all the time. When my son was almost two he started grunting and crying for ice cream and slushies every time he saw a cart or a truck (he wasn’t talking yet), and I knew I needed a plan.
I started giving him a “playground allowance.” He didn’t understand money yet, but I made it very simple. Each week I put ten quarters in a baggie. In 2003, that was enough to get either five small slushies, or two small ice cream cones. I explained this to him, told him how if he got slushies he could get one almost every day, but if he got ice cream he would go through the money a lot quicker. He loved counting it and carrying the money to the playground.
Naturally, he did what most kids would have done. He got two ice cream cones the very first day. I reminded him between the first and second one that his money would be gone for six more days, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t believe I was letting him have two ice cream cones.
The next day, I put the empty baggie in my pocket. When he asked for ice cream, I took out the bag and asked him where his money was. I reminded him that he had spent a whole week’s worth of treat money in one day, and that he wouldn’t get any more for five whole days.
A light bulb appeared over his head, he thanked me for teaching him a valuable lesson, and he has been great with money every since and has never thrown another tantrum.
Ha! Of course that’s not what happened. He started screaming and crying, and we went home. But I pretty much knew that’s what would happen. He was two! This would take time.
If I remember correctly, the next day he didn’t want any treats at the playground. But on the fourth day he did, and I again took out the baggie and explained why he couldn’t have any. He begged a few times over the next few days, and there were tears, but nothing like on that second day.
The second week, when the bag was full again, I made sure he really understood what was going on. He was able to show me how many coins he had to hand over for a slushie vs. ice cream. And that week went a lot more smoothly! He spread things out a bit more, and a couple of rainy days helped. I kept this system up for the rest of the summer. I’m sure there were some trouble spots, but nothing that stands out almost nine years later.
So, I spent one week putting up with crying and having to explain over and over, and in return got a summer free of whining and begging (well, when it came to the playground treats, anyway). We were dealing with more serious problems, like hitting, and the fact that he’d turned two and still wasn’t talking, and the playground allowance took the pressure off of one more thing we would’ve been dealing with.
The key was putting the blame onto an inanimate object or rule, instead of just flat out telling him no, a tactic I’ve used over and over since becoming a mom (Sorry buddy, you’re out of coins! Sorry kiddo, it’s not on the list! Sorry sweetie, that wasn’t one of the choices!). You can apply that tip to so many different situations, trust me.
Dealing with whining, crying children who want something sucks, it really does. But how you handle it will determine whether it happens again every time. So to those parents calling for a ban on selling ice cream and other treats in all of Prospect Park, I say that you should direct your energy towards parenting your own children, instead of taking choices away from mine.
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