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Parenting Tip of the Month
By Heather Totten

Those "Not-So-Good" Times Out With the Kids

We've all had them; those uncomfortable moments with kids that happened to be under the microscope of the public eye. In fact just yesterday in church, I had a full hour of

"Shhhh, Alex, turn around and stop talking."
"No, Isabella, church is not where you listen to your voice echo back at you."
"Shhhh, Sydney pull down your dress. We don't all want to see the 'frog panties' you chose today. "
"Maria, try to not use this as an art class, and try to pay attention at least a little."
"Sydney don't use pen on the pew."
"Alex stand up."
"Alex sit down."
"Sydney, don't sit on Isabella."
"Isabella don't hit the baby."
"Shhhh, Isabella, Shhhhh."
"Kate, you are being such a good baby." (She slept)

Well, you get the point. So, what do you do? Well, the very first thing I try to do happens before I even enter. I let go of what other people might be thinking or saying. Their displeasure of your children's behavior interferes with your ability to properly parent. You quickly lose control, you get really angry at those 'sneering' looks from others due to a somewhat defensive motherly instinct, and then get mad that your kids who made those people sneer to begin with. You threaten, you snipe, and before you know it you've lost control and you are all unhappy. So, I always arrive early, if I can. If I am there first, I can pick a seat without others around. So if you plan on sitting in front of or behind me, be forewarned. You can see my five young kids when you are sitting down. And I did not choose the 'best' spot in the house either. So, there are better spots to hear and see from. You sat close and I can't guarantee you won't hear the kids during mass.

Once that is established you have to let go of your expectations. Now, I don't mean ignore them and allow their behavior. But, don't go in with them if you expect them to sit there quiet and motionless. Don't expect behavior out of them that is above their ability or age. Also you need to know when it is time to remove them from the situation. That judgment is yours alone and should be decided upon depending on your venue. A loud restaurant would be more tolerant of a tantrum then the sermon at church.

Finally, take lots of deep breaths. The trick to control is to keep calm. Those little beings can pick up on body tension and react worse. Going back to worrying about the public sneers, you quickly reach a boil, and the kids react. Try to reflect on those fun memories with them. Remember 'this too shall pass.' Before you know it, you and your husband will be alone. They will be all gone and out of the house. You might wish for a fit or two at that time. Ok, I know that is easier to do when I am typing here than in the thick of it all, but do try to change your perspective; it will make it much easier on you all.

So, with your mind prepped, your expectations lowered (which will allow you to see the good moments in the bad also), your seating arranged to not worry about others around too much - you are ready to handle these tantrums. I get truly aggravated by those parents who let their children run wild in a restaurant or store with no control disturbing all of us. My children even stare and ask how can they get away with that. Because of them, most of the time when we go to a restaurant our large family is squeezed in a small spot in the back. It is just assumed that we might be disruptive. So squeezed and crammed in snug, we are alone at first. Then as if passing a test of sorts, they begin seating people around us. Every once in a while there is an older couple who sees us and without even sitting, leaves to find another place to sit. But in the end we end up being complimented from everyone around us to the manager that our children are so well behaved. They also seem to say it with 'shock' in their voices. So, although not an expert, we do go out in public often - sometimes better than others - and we expect decent behavior out of them. I stress the word 'decent' not perfect.

So how do we get to that point? I remind my kids prior to going in what I expect of them. If you don't put your expectations out there, how are they to know what you want? You might think it to be rather redundant or obvious, but it might not be to them. You can also use that in your favor when talking to them about their behavior. "Now what did Mommy say right before we walked in here"?

I don't resort to any type of chance/reward system either. You know, the two fidgets and such and you will lose the cookie I promised. I find making promises for good behavior is just silly. Why be rewarded for doing something you should do? So should they expect when they are in the workforce to get a bonus every time they get their work done? No. Rewards are for going above and beyond in life and even then they are given out sparingly. I have been known to give out 'surprise rewards.' Those are not announced in advance. But, due to good behavior or helping out, they receive a reward. These don't come often enough for them to expect either. I doubt there is even one a month. Another thing about promising rewards is that they make you give in to extra chances in order to avoid conflict. Say, you promised a stop at the gumball machine if they were good in the grocery. So in aisle 2 they toss their body on the floor wanting chips. Knowing in your mind, this is not the behavior you want to reward, you give them another chance. My goodness, you have 15 more aisles to go through and a list half a mile long to accomplish. "Ok, Jonny do that again, and no gum." Two aisles later he is on the floor again. Now he has you. You either say 'you've lost it' and he goes into the third tantrum that will be preceded with screaming down the remaining aisles, or you give another chance. You know it is wrong. But, you don't want him throwing a fit in public. Trust me, this has been learned by experience. I find that whenever a 'promise' of a reward is made - they act badly. It is as if they can just see how much they can get away with and watch you squirm and kick yourself for allowing them to get you in this position.

Ok . . . so we have given our expectations. Also let them know what you are going in the store for. "Jonny, we are going shopping for Susie's birthday present. We are not shopping for Jonny today. We are only going in to get a Barbie and that is it." So as you cruise down the aisle past all the Star Wars figures and he begs, you say, "Remember who we are shopping for and what are we buying."

If he starts to get upset because the Star Wars figures are passing him, try distracting him. Tell him what kind of Barbie do you think Susie will like? Do you think she would like one with a dog? What color? Do you see one? Get them to help you look and pick it out. If they are a part of the decision or process they are less likely to be upset that it is not for them.

If this does not prevent the fit, sing to him. No one will think you are crazy. I don't know why but the Barney "I love you" song stops all the tears in my girls. They don't even watch Barney. It must be the tune. Sing it softly so they have to listen and stop crying. Remember you are not supposed to be worried of what other people are thinking. And you are not trying out for American Idol either. This is for your child. And they all love music.

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If you are still having a problem, you have two choices left. You either tell him because of his behavior you are leaving. And stick to your word, pull him out of the cart right then and take him home. OR you ignore him. Ignoring is hard. You have to block out the public again. But, truly be considerate as to where you are while the fit is taking place. Can it happen for a little while, or must you remove the child from the situation? The best is if you are not shopping alone and you can remove the child while your partner or friend continues shopping. Then they really feel like they are missing out on something.

So what are the consequences for that behavior? Again it is up to you and what works for your child, but you want it to impact them so they are less likely to do it again. One time after church I took the kids home and instead of make your own pizza night that they knew I had planned, they ate PB&J with water to drink and went to bed early. That made a big impact on them. Their behavior was also very bad. I have only had to do that once. Another time the tantrum child went home and straight to their room for an allotted amount of time. While up there they had to think about what they did and plan on doing something nice when they came out. Alex hit his sister one time and had to think of her first the rest of the day. If he was thirsty, he had to ask her if she wanted a drink. If he wanted to color, he had to ask her if she wanted to color first. After a little while the 2 were giggling and playing nicely together. You'd never know it was a punishment. He even ended up making her a card to tell her he was sorry. I've had them make sorry letters or cards for poor behavior too. I think it is less the card, but they time they spend doing the card that helps here. They have to think about their behavior and work it through while they draw or color. If their behavior affected someone you know well, have them mail it to them. These experiences are to teach. You want them to learn to think before they try this behavior again. Again, they are all different.

Some other consequences I've used: time outs, losing privileges (like playing with friends or a movie), doing additional chores (Alex had to help me pull weeds in the garden one time), and being left out (like when all the other kids did really good and I do a surprise reward - the one who behaved badly does not get it).

Hopefully, I was able to inspire you to think deeper about how to help your child behave better in public. All children are different and there is no recipe for success for all of them. Some days are going to just be bad days. Others will be wonderful memories. You have to hang in there and treasure the moments both good and bad. You did not sign up for the 'easy' model of child. There is not one. There are easier, and there are harder. Be thankful you have who you have. There are many women out there that wish they could have a child to even have to consider disciplining, there are others that wish they could have just another day with theirs. You have to enjoy it all. Don't wish it away. It goes fast enough. And I forgot to say one really important thing - LAUGH. When you smile or laugh, your children will follow. Try it at home. When they are laying belly down kicking and screaming . . . get on the floor next to them and laugh. In seconds they will start to laugh too and soon forget why they were even upset.

Enjoy and love!

Heather Totten is a stay-at-home mom with five children and a busy husband. She is incredibly organized, and shares her sense of family, parenting, and organization with us in her monthly parenting tips column. Read what's new with her family in Heather's Parenting Journal.

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