Training Kids in Public (Part I)

I was asked by a fellow blogger to respond to some questions about how parents must learn to train and teach their kids in public. In other words, some of the best learning happens “on the job,” not in a quiet classroom. Here are my responses to specific questions on this subject.

How can parents teach their children manners in public by pointing out the inappropriate behavior of other children?

We’ve all seen children at a mall or a restaurant turn into tyrants. They become loud, obnoxious or just invade places they are not supposed to be. It can be annoying. When possible, I believe it’s brilliant to capitalize on these incidents and make them teaching moments for our children. Let me suggest some thoughts on how to do this:

1. Assume the role of mentor for your child 24/7. I recognize this may sound impossible, but especially during the first seven years — your top priority needs to be mentoring, modeling and debriefing with your children how to live and interact with others. Stay in “trainer mode” in public.

2.  Talk to your child about this issue before heading out into public. It’s better to build a fence at the top of a cliff, than a hospital at the bottom. Preventative medicine is always best. Discuss what’s right and wrong conduct in public beforehand. Then — when you see anything to the contrary, grab their hand and squeeze it. This will be your signal, reminding them of your conversation.

Is it possible to teach manners in public without insulting the parents or children who are indirectly “involved” in the lesson?

I believe it is. To ensure no one is insulted or if the scenario is very bad, pull your child aside in a restroom or a nook and talk. You don’t want to embarrass the other family or child as you discuss their inappropriate behavior, so use a private spot to debrief and learn.

What are the top three things a parent can do to insure that their child isn’t the one who is screaming in a restaurant, running behind the counter in the department store, pulling things off the shelves while waiting in line, etc.?

First, reward good behavior. Remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated. If this fits your parenting philosophy, have some goodies handy and when your child interacts well with adults or in a public place, pass that little goodie on and smile, thanking them for being a good example.

Next, remember the big IDEA for good parenting. The word IDEA reminds me that kids need four ingredients to learn something: Instruction (talk about it), Demonstration (show them), Experience (let them do it themselves), and Assessment (evaluate when its over). Find ways you can relay all four of these ingredients as you teach specific behaviors.

Finally, set your child up to interact naturally with adults. This is huge. Early on, I wanted my kids to learn to look an adult in the eye and order off of a menu at a restaurant or purchase a product at a store. So, my wife and I would have them do it, as early as five-years-old. This diminishes their predisposition to create a negative scene. They’ve learned to behave in a social setting.

What do you think? Have you employed creative ideas as you train kids in public?


Training Kids in Public (Part I)