When our kids were babies, Randy and I were taught that kids crave discipline. They thrive on order and that if there are no expectations their world can seem insecure.
I was determined that both of my kids were going to behave when we went out in public, and quickly learned that it was a lot harder work for me than it was for them. Inconvenient even. But this was my goal and I would not be defeated.
So a simple, but effective, method I used was telling them what the rules were. I know, I know. You're stunned. But I surprised myself at how often I expected perfect behavior when I didn't communicate to them what perfect behavior looked like. See if this scenario sounds familiar.
You're in Wal-Mart, one kid in the shopping cart and one kid hanging on to the side. From the moment you hit the door they begin with the only thing in their repertoire, the "Can I have that?" song. It's a song that is sung the entire time you're there and no matter how many times you say "no," they're holding out for that brief moment of insanity when you say "yes."
When stopping to find the ripest bunch of bananas, you turn around only to see precious toddler talking with produce man and the produce man is picking up the apples that precious toddler just knocked all over the floor. Sweet toddler in the buggy begins to wail because precious toddler is now taking bite after bite of the apple and now sweet toddler has to have one.
After another 30 minutes of trying to appease the crying toddler, avoiding a near fatal cart turn-over because of a cookie grab from toddler in buggy, putting back the second row of bread that was obliterated in one foul swoop, and apologizing (again) to the store employee for the broken jar of jelly on the floor because of an over-helpful precious toddler, you swear as God as your witness, that you will only ever do your grocery shopping at midnight. When it's quiet. And all toddlers will be in bed asleep at home with their father. You avoid eye contact with any elderly ladies because you know that look on their face is begging to say "Back in my day..."
We've all been there and these are those moments that make us all laugh when we talk about them, but rarely do we find the humor when we're in the midst of it. So here are a few things that really helped me. Disclaimer: These are not instant fixes. They take work and discipline and time.
1. Simply explain the rules when you pull into the parking lot. I would put the car in park, turn the radio off, make them look me in the eyes and repeat everything I said.
2. Keep the rules simple. Some examples are-
• Do not ask for anything. This was always our number one rule because it was the most annoying to me and the most abused by them.
• Always stay with Mommy. Sometimes they think that staying with Mommy just means that you can "see" Mommy. They always need to be right at your side. Don't expect them to do this unless you're specific about what "stay with Mommy" means. Rachel had it in her mind that just because she could see me, I could see her.
• Do not talk to strangers.
• Do not touch unless Mommy gives you permission. If I had a dime for everything that wound up in my cart at checkout that I had no idea how it got in there...
Tailor your rules to your kids. These were just a few that my kids needed.
3. As I mentioned before, be specific! You can't just say "obey me" and expect them to obey. Give them specific rules. And then be specific about the rules. If one of your rules is "Don't touch," be specific about what not to touch. Give examples and past situations (e.g. "Remember when you stuck your hands in the grapes and squished them in your fingers?")
4. Consequences! This was my son's first word. I'm not kidding. And it is a whole other blog post, but I can't talk about rules and expectations without talking a little about consequences. They are what make a kid's world go round. Just as it's crucial to good behavior to clearly communicate the rules, it's as equally important to explain the consequences of behavior- good or bad. "If you break any of these rules, then you will (fill in the blank)."
5. When you pull into the parking lot, make them tell you what the rules are first.
Mom: Hey, what are the rules we need to remember?
Kid: No asking for stuff.
Mom: Yes! Great job! What else?
And so on. Something fun I used to do is have them throw one or two rules in there that they make up. For instance, "No talking to the bananas" or "Touch your nose on aisle 7." They loved it and every now and then they found a really helpful rule that I didn't think of before.
6. Usually I'm not big on rewards for every good behavior because behaving well is expected. But if they don't expect the reward, then I will reward away! This is still a huge pleasure for Randy and me to do for our kids. I tried not to make it candy, but maybe a bottle of bubbles or some sugarless gum.
7. Go over the rules every time. Again and again and again. And again. I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much better behaved kids are when they know what to expect going in to a situation. Maybe not right at first, but if you follow through with the consequences of breaking the rules no matter how minor the offense was, you'll have a well-behaved child and relative peace during your shopping (or wherever public place you are).
God wants us to obey Him, but doesn't expect us to do things we don't know how to do.
"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3
It is up to us as parents to shepherd our children towards a Godly life. This means teaching them self-control and to always "in humility, consider others better than ourselves." Philippians 2:3
If my kids are ever having problems behaving, even still, we know we have one of two problems. 1. They don't know or understand the rules, or 2. We haven't been enforcing the consequences.
The payoff for teaching this to my children, the highest compliment, was when I had both of my toddlers in the store, listening along with everyone else to another toddler on the other side of the store having a major meltdown, and an elderly lady put her hand on my arm, looked me in the eyes and said, "Thank you."
And because I had done all this work partly for her I said, "You're welcome."