Don’t like the ice cream truck? Here’s what you can do


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.

My Solution


Playground Allowance

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.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

Mister Softee truck image used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution License. To see more images from Violette79, please visit her page on flickr.


  1. says

    Well, thanks! I am currently sitting here writing up a VERY similar article. Yours has more wit and much funnier soooo, you win. LOL. I feel the same way…think we have far too many “regulations” on things that are good ‘ol fashioned common sense! Parents need to be PARENTS. Yes, children can handle being told no, get over it. I do not like the ice cream trucks and find them to be rather annoying but, no worries my kids know this and don’t even ask. Geez. Parents put your “big mom” breeches on and be the parent you are called to be. Ahhhhhh, gee…maybe I’ll write my post anyway ;) heehee Great article, thank you for saying it!!

    • says

      @island girl: Thanks for the common sense comment, and of course you should still write your post! With an issue like this we’re all going to have our own take on it. It’s a big internet.

  2. says

    Fine, I’ll do it ;D Going to link yours in as well if that’s ok. Can I say though…really…do you really want your kid eating out of a truck that some sweaty guy has been doing goodness knows what in all day? Um, ew. heehee!

  3. says

    Hey! Everybody! That’s called ‘parenting.’ Generally speaking, that’s how it’s done.

    Please make a note of it.

    (I left an entire shopping cart full of groceries once when one of my kids was freaking out about not getting candy. Your kid freaks? Not the grocery store’s fault.)

    • says

      @Karen: Ooh, you just reminded me of another post I should write, about when I purposely took my son to a diner knowing we would be leaving before the food got there (I called first and told them not to actually put the order in). Scared the crap out of my son and made a big difference in restaurant behavior.

  4. says

    I wrote about something like this and linked like crazy to you. Mine was way more rant-like so I hope people come here for friendly advice instead of just my finger wagging!

    • says

      @Cristie: Just read it – agree 100%! And there are plenty of things I need to pay more attention to with my kids. But at least I recognize that I have to do something about it, I’m not trying to get other people to do something so I don’t have to! Drives me crazy.

  5. Ilina Ewen says

    This entitlement crap has gone way overboard. No wonder we have so many kids who have no concept of reality and think the whole world revolves around them. I believe in catering to my sons’ needs, not their whims. As I see it, I am raising adults, not kids.

  6. says

    I hate the ice cream truck parked outside my kids’ school. And the icee man. And the insomnia cookies on the corner. The two Crumbs bakeries, 16 Handles, Baked By Melissa and the soon to open gigantic Dylan’s-esque candy store opening on the corner of their school block. That’s what we pass on our way home from school every day. Do I think they should all be forced to close? No. Does it make me a mean mom every day? Yes. Our deal now is that once a week they get to pick any of those places for an after school treat. The two other days that we walk home it’s something healthier – fruit, lara bar, small all fruit smoothie, etc. But the fact that our neighborhood is now a living version of CandyLand makes me crazy.

    • says

      @RE: Your neighborhood is like a crack playground for a crack whore. It’s insane. I think I have it a little easier because I let my kids have a serving of dessert every day, so if they want to blow that on an ice cream truck, that’s their choice. But before that, we would get ice cream every Friday. Once it wasn’t just left up to my whims, they knew what to expect and didn’t bug me (much) on the other days.

  7. Sarah says

    Although my kids may sometimes be demanding when a ice cream truck pass by, I feel buying them ice cream would to the experience of visiting the park. Ice cream in the park is like a tradition and I would really miss it if would go away.

  8. says

    Your parenting instincts are spot on, Amy, at least in terms of the playground allowance. (I might question the decision to regularly give desserts to preverbal children.) But I totally identify with the mom who was exasperated by the ice-cream vendors poaching little customers by the slide. Kids are perfect marks! It’s a similar dynamic to overcharging for crappy snacks in the airport terminal and hotel minibar, or buying concert tickets online and finding some bogus “handling fee” at the last minute before checkout. You’re selling to a captive audience.

    Parents bring their kids to playgrounds to play. Presumably, those parents know where to buy their kids ice-cream if they wish. Those ice-cream trucks induce a Pavlovian reaction in some kids. Parents shouldn’t have to develop special strategies and Jedi mind-tricks for something as routine as a trip to the swingset.

    I’m all for responsible parenting, but there’s something wrong when even playgrounds lose their wholesomeness to crass consumerism and malnutrition. Love your blog by the way.

  9. says

    I just absolutely love your posts because you are so freaking opinionated, and not afraid to just lay it out, and I find myself agreeing with you. “There will always be something a child wants and can’t have.” Love this. And There will always be parents who blame everything else except themselves for everything.

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