Have you ever tried to take a wild monkey to a fancy sit down restaurant? I haven’t either, but I’ve taken toddlers and that’s pretty much the same thing, right? (Kidding… mostly). In all seriousness, though, if you’re parenting a child over the age of one, you’ve probably had the lovely experience of trying to discreetly (or not so discreetly) correct your child’s behavior in public. It’s not fun. You can feel the heat rising to the surface of your skin as your blood pressure rises & you hiss at your kid through your gritted teeth that they better straighten up “or else.” You know what the problem with that scene is? It’s stressful. It’s not fun for either of you. And it’s not an effective way of teaching your child how to behave in public. Here are 6 real life, EFFECTIVE tips to getting kids to behave in public.
Tip 1: Have realistic expectations.
Children are wired to play, ask questions, be loud, and make messes. It’s an important part of their development. While children SHOULD be taught how to behave in all different settings, it’s not REALISTIC for you to expect your child to spend an exceptionally long period of time in a place where they have to sit still, be quiet, and do things that they will otherwise find boring.
Children will fidget. Children will have to go to the bathroom at inconvenient times. Children will need snacks more often than you will. Children will ask you questions.
If your goal is getting your child to behave in public, you need to make sure that your expectations for their behavior are realistic. The more unrealistic your expectations are, the greater your level of frustration will be.
Tip 2: Prepare your children before hand.
Do not assume that your children know what is expected of them. This is such a key point when it comes to getting kids to behave in public! They have to be TAUGHT. Even the brightest children will need reminders EVERY time they are walking into a situation that is not going to be overly kid-friendly.
Let them know what to expect as much as possible. “We are going to a memorial service. Other grown ups will be very sad. You will need to sit still for a long time and you will need to be quiet. I have packed your backpack full of quiet activities for you to do during the service.”
Define the desired behavior: “I need you to use walking feet. During the service I want you to sit quietly. When you need to talk, I want you to whisper into my ear.”
Give your child an appropriate level of control by giving them choices: “You may sit on my lap, or you may sit next to me. Which do you choose?” “You may look at this book, or you may play with this toy. Which do you choose?”
Tip 3: Use incentives if you need to.
YES, I do believe children need to learn to behave in all kinds of settings without always expecting a reward. HOWEVER, if you KNOW that what you are asking them to do is beyond what should really be reasonable for their age, you may want to consider offering an incentive.
If you expect your three year old to sit still for an hour and a half long church service and it is very important to you that he be totally quiet and calm, you definitely need to incentivize that.
If you are taking your child to the grocery store for an average shopping trip and you would just like your child to be reasonably cooperative, you probably don’t need to offer an incentive for that.
- Are tangible items or experiences that the child will gain access to within minutes or hours of exhibiting the desired behavior
- Are affirming and focus on the positive behavior desired
- Are earned – they are NOT something that you intend on giving whether or not your child exhibits the desired behavior
- Have weight – you have to be able & willing to follow through
- Don’t require perfection in order to be earned
Tip 4: Carry supplies
Let’s be real. If you’re focused on getting kids to behave in public, you need to make sure that their needs are met. A lot of places that aren’t kid friendly are the types of places that are miserable to be if you’re hungry, thirsty, or bored. Be proactive. Pack a busy bag full of tricks that you can pull out when you need it.
Grab a checklist of all the busy bag essentials below!
*Please Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase the products, I will receive a small commission. There is no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I genuinely use and love. If you do decide to use these links, thank you so much for your support!*
Here are just a few of the Busy Bag items that are referenced in the checklist:
Suckers – Sweet flavors are calming, and sucking is a calming sensation. I don’t typically use suckers as an incentive, but rather as a tool that I pull out to keep them calm, quiet, and happy in the moment. I like this brand because they’re organic and have less sugar.
Color Wonder Markers & Paper – it’s PERFECT for keeping them busy without being worried that they’ll draw on the table, their skin, or their clothes.
Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow – This keeps all 3 of my kids (ages 1, 3, and 5) fully engrossed for quite a while. Plus I love that they’re re-usable. This particular set is the best price I’ve seen.
Toys like Magformers or Magnatiles. I love that they can stick together so easily for compact toting in small backpacks. They completely occupy all three of my kids for a long time. I also love that they encourage visual/spatial development as well as invite imaginative play. The possibilities are endless with them, which makes them the PERFECT busy bag activity.
Reusable stickers like these are an amazing tool to include.
** Pro-tip – In addition to my busy bag, I also keep a tote in the back of my car with a full change of clothes for each kid, extra baby wipes, two towels, a plastic bag, and a car potty… because you just never know what mom life is gonna throw at you…. just sayin’.
Tip 5: Verbally praise & encourage frequently.
Before you walk in, affirm your belief that you KNOW your child is capable of exhibiting good behavior. Use affirming statements like:
“Remember, I expect you to be quiet and respectful while we are in here. You’re going to do such a great job, I’m sure of it.”
WITHIN TEN SECONDS of setting foot inside, verbally affirm your child. “You are doing such an awesome job. I am so proud of you! Keep it up!”
The trick is to affirm them and give them a little boost BEFORE they’ve even really had a chance to blow it. Depending on the situation, you may have to affirm your child frequently throughout. You want your child to know that you are on their team and you are rooting to see them succeed.
Tip 6: Don’t push your luck.
If your child is doing really well, the temptation might be to add on even more. If you’re running errands, the temptation may be to go to one more store. If you’re out to dinner, the temptation may be to linger a little longer. DON’T. Don’t let your child’s meltdown be the indicator that it’s time to call it a day. Go home on a good note.
What are your favorite tips for getting kids to behave in public?