With an 18 month old at home, I haven't experienced too many moments when my daughter has misbehaved in public. My partner and I have had glimpses of the tantrums to come, but she's typically too excited to be out and about to throw a fit. That said, I know it's on the horizon and I'd much rather get ahead of this game. So, with that in mind, I'm already committing to make these ricks parents use to get their kid to behave in public our collective family reality.
Our first real glimpse of what's to come with our daughter has been her unwillingness to get into her car seat, usually when I've found the best parking spot right near the main doors to Target, meaning there's a constant flow of people creating an audience she's apparently excited to perform for. But after several sweaty struggles trying to get her buckled in, I've realized that the best way to get her into her seat is to explain exactly what's going on. So many times, I think we believe our kids are too young to understand what's going on, so we don't bother explaining everything. I've lately adopted the mentality that my daughter can understand everything, and I explain everything as much as possible. Of course, this isn't always true, but it's a good habit to get into as she understands more and more every day.
I've had great examples for encouraging children to behave in public by watching my friends parent their older kids. Each parent who seems to enjoy the most success are the calmest, but also the most honest with their kids. They don't lose their cool or resort to the iPad at the slightest sign of an impending tantrum. Instead, they are proactive in encouraging good behavior, and employ a few tricks ahead of time, especially during events or occasions when behavior is important.
Explaining your expectations to your kids before you enter a situation is critical. As I mentioned, I'm finding it even works with my daughter, who is only a young toddler and can't even speak in sentences yet. By explaining how "we" behave in public, or how we might act in a situation, can be so helpful, especially if there's going to be other kids around who might give bad examples.
Often children misbehave because there's something going on underneath. Maybe they're insecure around other children and, as a result, are trying to impress them. Maybe they're feeling uncomfortable about being in a new place.
Keep an eye on what's going on underneath, that may or may not be causing the behavior, and try to address those things in order to help combat the crummy behavior.
Treat Your Kid Like An Adult
The more you can treat your child like and adult from an early age (in some ways, although obviously not all), the better. For instance, having expectations that they are able to function out in public without making a scene, as we would expect of adults, is a great start. If you allow children to run around like maniacs in places where that's not really appropriate, and just brush it off like, "Oh, they're just children and they couldn't possibly do anything else," that's exactly the behavior you're going to get.
I'm all for kids getting to run and play and act like kids. However, there are situations where it's just not appropriate, and it's our job to teach kids that we do certain things in certain places.
Model The Desired Behavior
With each passing day, I realize that the biggest influence I have on my daughter is my own behavior. It's almost scary how much my baby watches and mimics everything I do.
So, in addition to explaining expectations and keeping an eye out for underlying problems, we should also be a positive example for our kids. Most of us wouldn't run around like a lunatic in a parking lot or shove straws up our noses in a restaurant, sure. However, by keeping an eye on our own behavior, like not staring at our screens all the time and asking engaging questions of the people we're with, can model positive behavior for kids.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Rather than always criticizing negative behavior, positive reinforcement for good behavior can go so much further. Saying things like, "Thank you so much for sharing that toy," or, "That was such a grown-up thing to do, holding the door for that man," are great boosts for kids of any age.
Bring Fun Snacks Or Plan Fun Activities
Sometimes kids are rotten because they're bored, so a great way to keep them engaged and busy is with a fun snack or a simple, quiet activity that will keep their attention for a little while.
As my daughter gets older, allowing her to choose a snack if we're going to a place where behavior is going to be imperative, will be part of the drill. Right now, I just try to find something in the cupboard that she hasn't eaten in a few days so it feels like a novelty. I'm not talking about breaking out the M&M's every time you need a child to behave, but sometimes a distraction can help.
Use Real Consequences
It's the worst, but bad behavior has to have real consequences. When you explain expectations and they are not met, the consequences you have outlined need to be applies. It's already becoming one of my least favorite parts of parenting. We're trying to teach our daughter not to throw her food from her tray if she doesn't want it ,and the consequence we have outlined (to an 18 month old, mind you) is that if she throws her food she will have to be finished eating. It's so annoying to have to follow through with that consequence, but every time we do I remind myself that it literally will never work if we don't follow through.
This isn't for every situation, but can work in circumstances where you really need cooperation. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is explain expectations of good behavior and pairing them with a treat. It's sort of like a bribe, but you can also think of it as a deal, and you both have to make good on your end of the bargain if all the expectations are met.
A nice twist is to offer a treat for your child that will specifically reward their polite and courteous behavior, like going somewhere a little fancy.
Master The Mom Voice
I often think about Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy, "Speak softly but carry a big stick." The same (sort of) goes for making sure kids behaving in public. Speak softly and calmly as much as possible, but master the mom voice and only break it out when it's absolutely necessary. I have a friend whose mom voice even makes me jump, and I'm so envious. My mom voice typically produces zero results with my daughter, but I'm working on it.