The tantrum was downright epic. It was over a toy she wanted, but couldn’t have – typical “threenager” situation. While trying not to laugh at her over the top reaction, I coaxed my nearly four-year-old daughter, Camille, into our Suburban, or as she and her brother named it, The Sonoran Eagle Whipped Cream White Truck (I can’t make this stuff up, folks). As we drove, she continued to scream and wail. I was doing my best to ignore her and hope she’d either a) get over it or b) fall asleep. Then, her five-year-old brother, Kenton, yells, “Mommy! Mommy! She took off her seatbelt!”
Immediately, I pulled over onto a side street, got out of the car and buckled her back in. Gently, but sternly, I told her, “You never unbuckle your seatbelt while mommy is driving.” Still focused on the denied toy, she continued to wail. We made it home without further incident and I, again, had a chat with her about unbuckling her seat belt. She was not interested in hearing it – far too upset with me about that darn toy.
A Teachable Moment
In that moment, I had a choice. I could have left it as is and hoped she didn’t do it again. Or, I could make sure she heard this message loud and clear. Since this was a situation that put her health and life at risk, I went with the latter. My husband and I practice grace-based parenting and understand our kids will make mistakes – especially at these young ages – but it is our job to keep them safe and choose the teachable moments to reach them at their level. This was one of those moments.
In that moment, I had a choice. I could have left it as is and hoped she didn’t do it again. Or, I could make sure she heard this message loud and clear. Since this was a situation that put her health and life at risk, I went with the latter.
Taking Action For My Children's Safety
I told my kids I was calling the police. They didn’t believe me. So, I called the police.
I was at home (not driving) and I called the non-emergency line (not 911). The dispatcher forwarded me to Officer Kory Sneed, who is assigned to the area I live in and specifically works with the community on these issues. He called me back the next day. I explained the situation and he invited my kids and I down to the station to discuss seat belt safety.
Early the following morning (now two days post “incident”), I took both kids down to the Scottsdale Police Department, where Officer Sneed and his partner met us in the parking lot. They were armed with gifts… stuffed animals, balls, stickers, etc. They spoke to my kids at their level in a manner they could understand. They used the stuffed animals to explain what would happen if they were buckled vs. unbuckled if “another car hit mommy” while we were driving. My kids were wide-eyed and attentive. The officers had clearly done this before – their spiel rehearsed and effective. They repeatedly told the kids, and me “Our primary concern is keeping you safe.” The entire interaction was positive. Camille promised to never unbuckle her seatbelt again.
Was Camille ever frightened or nervous? Yes, as she should be. If she was not frightened or nervous to go to a person of authority when she knew she had done something wrong, then I am not teaching her to properly respect authority figures. I do not meant a frightened type of fear, but a fear that is healthy and comes from a place of respect. Now, she knows the police are people of authority whom she should respect and whom she can trust. She thinks they’re “awesome” and “so nice.” But she also knows they will back mommy up if needed.
I’m grateful to the Scottsdale Police Department for taking time to speak with my kids about this issue. I’m grateful to the journalists who’ve covered this story correctly, reported the true facts and helped us open up a dialogue about the best way to parent the children entrusted to our care. Every child is different and learns in his/her own way. I knew this was the right call for my daughter. I’m proud I took this step and my husband and I look forward continuing to find creative ways to parent this precious girl, whom we absolutely adore!
Have you ever faced these life-threatening teachable moments as a parent? What was your reaction?
Michelle Fortin is an award winning broadcast journalist and public relations professional. Michelle spent a decade working in television newsrooms across the country, both behind and in front of the camera. She has also trained future broadcast journalists in her faculty associate roles at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, Arizona Christian University, and The Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. She maintains a roster of public relations clients through her business, The Fortin Agency, LLC. Michelle received her bachelor’s degree from Biola University and Master of Mass Communication (MMC) from Arizona State University. She and her husband, two young children and English Bulldog live in Scottsdale, Arizona.