Baby boy is just 12 months, but walks really well and prefers to walk. When we are at the grocery store or somewhere we need to go from Point A to Point B, sometimes he doesn't want to go where I want to go. If I try to lead him by the hand, he throws himself to the ground. If I try to carry him, he screams and throws a fit. I usually either let him wander around a bit, if the situation permits, or carry him screaming through the store ignoring his fit until he stops. Since I can't usually let him lead the way, any advice on how to get him to walk happily by my side? Sometimes letting him push the cart in the store works for a while. Is this expecting too much from a 12 month old?
If you absolutely must hold his hand (like crossing the street, or in the parking lot). Give him a choice, "Would you like to hold my hand, or be carried?". It gives him the sense of control and determination he is looking for but still gives you the peace of mind that you need that he is safe. If he says hands, but then still tries to get loose, he looses his choice and you carry him or harness him into a stroller.
At twelve months we put ours in the trolley seat - in fact even up to about 3 or 4 years old, as you really don't want the little ones tripping up shoppers with heavy bags etc.
That said, when we did walk with them we would just say "holding hands or we need to carry you" and positively reinforcing that meant that pretty early on they would come to us to hold hands without being asked.
It is a very good thing to encourage in all busy spaces or near roads, steps etc.
The way we have been handling it is that we don't present him with a choice in the matter.
If we're not in a hurry, we let him walk while holding his hand. However, if he starts heading in a direction that isn't where we want/need to go, we limit ourselves to very light tugs on his hand to indicate without pressuring him if he resists, coupled with verbal encouragement (e.g. a light tug or two while we say "come on, we need to go this way... over here!" in a positive and encouraging tone). Sometimes he will stand there for a minute or two before he heads the right way. Sometimes he will head in a different direction, which we will allow as long as it is somewhere safe. However, he has to hold our hand at all times.
If he pulls his hand away from ours, we take his hand again. If he insists on pulling his hand away repeatedly, we simply pick him up without saying anything.
If he refuses to go in the direction we want him to, we simply pick him up without saying anything.
If we're in a hurry, we either pick him up, or put him in a stroller (whichever is more appropriate).
I think the trick to this is to make sure he has plenty of opportunities for wandering at his own pace, in the directions he wants to go, without making a big deal of the times when you need to go somewhere specific and have to pick him up.
You need to communicate to him that he has 2 choices. The first choice is to hold your hand. The second will depend on the situation and your own feelings, but something like: sit in the cart; sit on a naughty step; be carried (kicking and screaming!).
If you get a tantrum then you need to ignore him or you'll encourage the behaviour. Additionally you can offer that when he behaves he'll get something (i.e. sweets?). In order to combine these two you must only make the offer at the beginning and then ignore the bad behaviour. You need to be strong if in a public place!
Let him have free-choice of what to do when he's playing - this he may particularly enjoy if you're playing with him and following his lead. In a public place isn't really the place for him to be taking the lead.
At 12 months, even if he is a proficient walker (our son certainly was), expecting him to understand he needs to hold hands and go where you are going is a bit much. They want to explore the world and what fascinates them, they are too young to understand where you are going and why it's so important to go there directly or quickly or ever get there for that matter. Whether the child will contentedly hold your hand and walk is partly a matter of personality and partly a matter of age. At 18 months or so, my son started being more cooperative about being willing to hold hands while walking compared to at 12 months. Other personalities may cooperate younger or older. But even at almost 2, I still frequently have to pick him up and carry him (or buckle him in a cart or stroller), sometimes kicking and screaming, when he is refusing to cooperate about holding hands and walking in the prescribed direction.
Balancing freedom and directed travel is about the only thing I've found that seems to increase the ability to cooperate for the directed parts. There's a lot they have the inclination to explore, and having had that satisfied it's easier to sit still or follow without wandering off.
First of all, you need to deal with the tantrums. They are a separate issue, and should be dealt with with strength and courage. There are good answers to some tantrum questions here and here and here.
To the issue of getting the child to hold your hand, the idea is compliance. Getting the child to hold your hand is no different than getting the child to listen to any other direction from you. Give the command, and apply consequences if it isn't obeyed. It is SIMPLE in concept, but often very difficult in practice.
That said, I would get a harness. In crowded areas holding the hand is not good enough, as it is too easy for the child to slip away. When my 19 year old was a toddler we used one in amusement parks, baseball games, swap meets and other crowded areas. The peace of mind was priceless.
Take heart, be strong, and good luck!