Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekly Column: Parents Need Behavior Tips, Too

Going out in public places with small children usually isn’t without risks.  Embarrassing outbursts, messy accidents, and simple exhaustion are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what might go wrong when little ones are present. 
For my family, it’s become common practice to outline the behaviors we expect of our children in advance.  We remind them to speak quietly and stay close.  We offer rewards for good behavior.  We plead (with unshakeable authority, of course) for obedience.  And in many cases, the planning pays off; our family outings become easier as the children learn the ropes.
But what about the parents?  Don’t we need to learn the ropes, too? 
Parents of small children are often in uncharted territory, this being their first voyage.  None of us know exactly what to do, and that includes parenting in public situations.  If our children hear such frequent outlines of how they should behave, it’s only fair to expect that we parents might also wonder what behavior is appropriate when out and about.
Here are a few quick ways for parents to navigate the tricky world of public parenting. 

Stick To Your Rules
It can be tempting to ignore undesirable behavior in your children just because there’s no easy, private place for your rules to be enforced.  After all, finding a good spot for a time-out in the middle of the mall is much more complicated than the same disciplinary strategy would be at home.  But to brush off the broken rule will only reinforce your child’s understanding that rules don’t matter in public.  Try to improvise when necessary and follow through as soon as possible.

Ignore Peer Pressure
If every other parent around you seems to be impossibly strict with their kids, that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.  By the same token, if the rest of the public space is filled with parents who allow much more leniency than you’re comfortable with, you don’t need to change your own standards.  As tough as it may be to be the single dissenting voice, trust other parents to accept that you’re doing what you feel is best for your family.  More importantly, trust yourself to know what that means. 

Know When to Bend
At the same time, there are situations when a bit more leniency or caution is required.  Be mindful of the location and activity, and focus on ways to stick to your own brand of parenting while allowing your family to enjoy the outing with a minimum of fuss.

Dial Down the Judging
When faced with parenting styles that differ from your own, don’t be hasty with judgment.  Unless the parents in question seem to be physically or emotionally harming their children, allow them to decide what’s best for their family.  None of us can ever know the entirety of another’s situation.  Plus, none of us want to be judged ourselves.  Do Unto Others…

Remember Your Focus
If you’re on a family outing, you’re probably hoping to have a good time with your children.  Remember why you’re there – at the park or the movies or the party – in the first place.  Focus on your children; play with them and enjoy their fun.  Don’t obsess about what others are, or are not, doing.  By giving your attention to outward concerns, you’ll miss all the good stuff.

Despite the opportunities for embarrassing disaster, going out in public with small children in tow will never be without benefits.  And thankfully, we parents will grow more and more comfortable with taking those chances.  All it takes is a little practice.


  1. Great Post! Great advice!
    Hope you are feeling well?

  2. Yep, and it is so true too! Sometimes you have to plan in advance and that will change everything when you are actually in the situation.


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