Children in Public Places

Everyone has a story to tell about a child they saw ran amuck in a public place, and the parents were nowhere to be found. What did you think of those parents (or their lack of parenting skills)? Admittedly, they were probably not very nice thoughts. If you don't want your child to be seen as a nuisance but rather as a joy to be around, you're going to have to make sure that she behaves whenever you go somewhere. One of the best ways to ensure good behavior in public is practice.

Public Displays of Good Behavior

If you're in a place like a playground or park, then you can feel free to let your child burn off some energy—that is, as long as he's not mowing down smaller children in the process. However, if you're in a public place where running is discouraged, such as a restaurant or store, then you need to keep on top of your child and stop him from running.

Again, in a place where other children are acting like children, no one is going to notice if your child joins in with the yelling. However, if he decides to yell in the middle of a movie or the mall, you need to go over to him right away and tell him “Shhh. ”

You should never let your child “cry it out” in public. There's probably a very valid reason that he's started crying, such as he's hurt himself or maybe he lost sight of you and he's scared. Find out the reason and try to resolve it. You shouldn't subject strangers to your child's screams and crying, and just wait until he calms down. This is definitely bad behavior on your part.

In order to raise a polite child, you've got to be a polite parent. Teach good manners by example. Make “please” and “thank you” part of your everyday vocabulary, and your children will start using those words, too.

Respectful Restaurant Behavior

You can start practicing your respectful restaurant behavior at home. For example, at the dinner table, you can remind your child not to speak with food in his mouth, never to call out when he wants to participate in the conversation, and always to speak in a quiet voice. Again, lead by example. Make sure that your table behavior is as good as you hope your child's will be. Then from time to time you can take your child to a restaurant, and let him practice his good manners.

Besides practicing good manners at home and at restaurants, you need to be aware that sometimes distraction is the best way to keep a hungry child from acting out. Many sit-down restaurants have introduced child-friendly fare and activities to keep their youngest customers occupied before the meal, but you can't always count on there being a sufficient supply of coloring books and crayons available when you get to any given restaurant. Bring toys and coloring tools that will keep your child occupied from the time you sit down at the table until the time your food arrives. If you've forgotten your coloring supplies, you can always start an impromptu game of hangman on the back of a placemat or begin doing “I Spy” from your seat at the table.

Finally, no matter how tired and hungry you are, you can't let that get in the way of making sure that your child is well behaved throughout the meal.

If he starts to climb out of his seat or wants to begin a conversation with the couple sitting next to you, you must stop him immediately. You may think he's being cute but your fellow diners may not agree. If your daughter decides that she's done eating and wants to run around, you have to explain that a restaurant isn't a place for running around. One of you may have to take her outside for a walk, if she can't sit still. If that doesn't work, you're going to need to take the rest of your meal home in a doggie bag so that your daughter's growing impatience with sitting still doesn't start to annoy the other people in the restaurant.

When you go out to eat with a young child, you should know in the back of your mind that keeping your child's behavior in check has got to be your top priority—this is not the time to have a relaxing meal with your spouse. You'll have to save that for when you hire a babysitter so you can go out together.

The Well-Mannered Moviegoer

Practice begins at home for how to behave at the movies. When you're watching TV, you've got to be vigilant about watching your child and making sure that she isn't jumping around when a movie is on or talking loudly during the show. You can practice whispering to one another when you have something to say while you're watching a video together at home, and then when she finally goes to the movies with you, she'll have a better sense of why you need to whisper in a theater.

Here are the behaviors you want to practice with your child to ensure she doesn't ruin the movie-going experience for others in the theater:

Staying in her seat (except if she needs to go to the bathroom). Whispering when she wants to tell you something. Not kicking the seat in front of her. Eating quietly and neatly. Not yelling out at the screen. Applauding when the movie is over.

Politeness at the Playground

If there's one place where kids should feel free to be kids, it's at the playground. Parents who take their kids to the playground should expect lots of energetic play. If you don't like screaming or running around, you're going to have an awful time at the playground.

One of the biggest bones of contention at the playground has to do with the sharing of toys and equipment. It's perfectly normal for a young child not to want to share, but that doesn't mean that your child can't learn to do so. Again, practice makes perfect, and your child shouldn't be exempt from practicing these skills. Every time your little tike is in a situation where sharing is required, guide him through his good manners. If he's been using the swings for a long time and another child wants a turn, tell your child that it's time to share the swing and then take him off. He may not like your decision—and react badly—but unless you do this consistently, he'll never learn to share.

What do you do about young bullies at the playground who take your child's toys? You've got to put a stop to this. The next time you see this bully go after your son's stuff, get up and tell the other child that his behavior is unacceptable. It's never rude to stand up for your child, and you shouldn't feel bad in doing so.

While it's important to teach your child to share, you shouldn't teach her to be a doormat. If she's just started playing with a toy or piece of playground equipment, and immediately another child wants to use it, don't be fearful of telling the other child, “No.” Of course, you should do this delicately by saying something like, “Gee, Sally just started playing with the toys in the sandbox. Why don't you come back in five minutes, and we'll switch?” If there are plenty of buckets in the sandbox, you could offer a few to the other child, but don't go for gracious behavior at the detriment of your child. You may think that you're acting polite—and teaching your child to be the same—but in fact you will be neglecting her feelings in order to appear polite, and that's just not a good idea.

Consideration at Stores and Supermarkets

The reality of being a parent is that sometimes you have to take your kids along when you go shopping. There's no better place for a kid to develop a case of the “gimmes” than in the aisle of the supermarket or a store. Kids tend to want to have everything they see on a store shelf, but it's unacceptable when parents give in to these demands all the time. Setting limits helps your child appreciate privileges instead of taking them for granted.

If your child has a meltdown in the middle of an aisle because you refuse to give in to him, you'll have two choices. First, you can try to reason with your child and get him to calm down. The younger the child, though, the less effective reasoning will be. Also, don't let “reasoning” turn into “negotiation” where you find yourself eventually giving in after all the whining and crying. That's not the point of this exercise. (Then all you will have taught your child is that the more he complains, the more certain it is that he'll eventually get his way.)

However, if reasoning doesn't work and the tantrum is getting worse, then you're going to have to leave the store. That means abandoning your shopping cart, and getting the heck out of dodge. Not only do you need to teach your child a lesson on good behavior—if you act badly, we leave the store—but you also want to avoid subjecting other shoppers to your child's behavior. You can try to take your child outside to calm him down. It's true that it might seem rude (to the store personnel) that you're leaving your cart in the middle of the aisle, but in the long run, leaving with a screaming child is better than continuing to shop with one.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Ask any traveler what's the worst thing about being on a bus, train or plane with a child, and you're sure to hear about the kids who screamed nonstop, kept kicking the person's seat or ran amuck throughout the trip. Children need to learn the right and wrong way to travel with others. These lessons will start right in his car seat, in your automobile. That's when you can let your child know that kicking the seat and screaming are unacceptable behaviors.

Besides practicing how to behave when you need to travel somewhere— and making sure that you stay on top of your child's behavior throughout the trip—you should remember that the best way to have a well-behaved child on any road trip or flight is to make sure that he stays occupied. That may mean that you have to pack an extra backpack full of toys, games, and food, but the travelers around you will surely appreciate your doing so.

While it's a good idea to bring things along for your child to do during your travels, it's also good to consider that your fellow travelers may view certain activities as distracting. Your reading out loud to your child, helping him with his homework, or giving him a videogame to play will keep him occupied but all those activities could disturb the passenger sitting near you who is trying to work silently or, worse yet, sleep.

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