I was in a grocery store recently with Autumn, 8, when a little girl threw a tantrum because she wanted some cookies her mother wouldn't buy. Autumn looked shocked and whispered to me: ''She's embarrassing herself.'' Autumn was quiet in the car so I asked if the incident with the little girl upset her. She said, ''No, but I wanted those cookies, too, and I knew you would say no, so I didn't ask.''
This was a welcome lesson because on previous occasions, she has done her share of coaxing for things without regard to how she appeared to others. She has not, however, been as manipulative as a child I know who succeeds in getting a new toy every time he accompanies his mother to the store.
Parents slip into buying treats or toys because they know shopping is boring to children, but there's a different way to look at it. Shopping is good preparation for adulthood when they must buy their own food and clothing. Children will learn much from the way you approach these tasks. My husband, for example, never shops without a list. Where did he get this good habit? From his parents.
Another thought: Why do we think children should never be bored? They don't need to be entertained or play all the time. Errands, like household chores, are part of life. It doesn't help, of course, that stores deliberately place toys and treats near ground level where children can see them and finger them, the better to be enticed.
I try to be casual. Sometimes we go for ice cream after shopping, especially if it has been a long outing. Sometimes we don't. In most cases, I try to announce the decision ahead. ''No treats today, it's too close to payday.'' Or ''Let's hurry so we have time to stop at the soda fountain.'' Most times the children can accept a ''yes'' or ''no.'' Other times, they can't resist trying for a ''yes.''
To avoid buying toys as ''pacifiers,'' my neighbor packs a little toy bag for her daughter to take along. She tosses in a ''surprise'' piece of sugarless gum or an apple.
The temptation to mollify a child with a new toy is greatest if the day is a long one. It's easy to advise short trips, but that isn't always possible. One solution is to break up the trip by stopping at a park or sitting on a bench in the mall so the child can run free under your supervision. I see many mothers doing this, and they go on their way refreshed.
Sometimes when children appear greedy, it isn't their fault. I thought my cousin's children were definitely taking advantage of their grandmother, only to learn she had arranged with them before her visit to take them on a toy-shopping trip.
Sometimes, too, we build up expectations without realizing it. I heard a young boy tell his parents he wouldn't go with them to Disney World because he had been told he couldn't buy a souvenir. Every trip before, he had been loaded down with souvenirs, so his disappointment was very real.
Now that more fathers are helping working mothers with child care and grocery shopping, they will have to learn to be less gullible to pleas such as, ''Mother always lets me . . .'' have a toy or a treat. Father should check because Mother may not, or at least not ''always.''
We needn't go to extremes, but we don't want our children to learn to manipulate and tyrannize us to get what they want. It's nice when they decide for themselves that this isn't the kind of person they want to be.