When I go out in public with my daughters (8 and 4), I am frequently complimented on how well they behave. This has not, and is not, always the case, but it happens often.
Some of what I do know about parenting has come from trial and error. The rest comes from other resources.
The practice I am about to share came from an assortment of articles I’ve read on using rules to help guide our children’s behavior in public. One article was Tom Sturges’s, “The Parking Lot Rules,” in a 2008 issue of Men’s Health. Sturges has collected his family’s rules into a book called Parking Lot Rules & 75 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Chidren (Random House, 2008).
Creating Rules Help Our Kids
“The Parking Lot Rule” was the first Sturges created. It was simple: “stay close.”
Since reading this, I’ve implemented two of the rules from the article into my household. The first involves crossing the street. While we already had rules about it, I’ve found it much more effective to actually say to my kids, “We’re crossing the street. What’s the rule when we cross the street?” “Stay close.”
The next rule we added was about trying new food. In the original article, the father had taken his young son to France. The deal was that if the kid tried (not finished) all of the exotic entrees they were going to have, then he could have all the desserts that would follow.
While we have yet to visit France, my kids do try everything I make for them that is unfamiliar, whether it’s matzo ball soup or diced tomato in their tacos, because they know that dessert is on the other side.
Going Out in Public with Kids
Following the success of crossing streets safely and my kids surviving after trying garlic in their mashed potatoes, I thought, surely I’m the greatest parent alive.
After all, when they were younger, they licked playground equipment. Not anymore.
Now, when we enter restaurants, I say, “We’re going into a restaurant. What’s the rule when we eat in a restaurant?” Truthfully, I don’t know myself, but they say something like “behave,” and they do.
The reason this is so important to do as a preface to entering the restaurant is because I’ve found that by the time the older one is hiding under the table and the younger one is crying because she wants to sit next to mommy, it is too late. The same goes for when the kids lag behind or run ahead while crossing the street.
Every Parenting Success Brings Another Challenge
Last week I was at the grocery store with my youngest after picking her up at school. We got our items and found a short line.
“Dad,” she said.
“Why does that lady have dots on her face?”
I looked up to find her pointing at the freckled woman in front of us, who was so close my daughter could have reached out and grabbed her. Mortified, I pulled the cart back a little and moved around to whisper to my daughter.
“Honey,” I said. “It’s not polite to point at people.”
“Is it because that’s the way God made her?” she said, just as loudly as before.
“Yes,” I whispered in a hushed tone. “That’s the way God made her.”
“With dots on her face?”
“Yes, she has dots on her face. We’ll talk about it later.”
“Because that’s the way God made her?”
“Shhh, we’ll talk about it in the car.”
“God made her with dots on her face?”
“SHUT THE HELL UP!”
“Can I have some gum?”
If this were a lone incident my blood pressure might not be rising as I tell this story, but the next day we were at the grocery store again picking up some last minute items for dinner.
We’d had a great day together and she was very well-behaved in the store. After all, we began with “what are the rules in the grocery store?” (Again, I don’t really know, but she seems to follow them.) We were at the checkout line, and as I found out the latest celebrity gossip, she burst out crying.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, figuring she might need a nap.
“I don’t wanna get old!” she said.
Oh boy, I thought, it’s definitely nap time.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Don’t even worry about it.”
“No,” she wailed. “I don’t want to get old like her.”
And there she was, pointing at an elderly woman so close she could have reached out and grabbed her.
And the trials continue as I’m finding that the grocery store rules need an amendment.