“When I am one-on-one with my kids at home, I feel like things are going smoothly, but when they get around other kids, who may not have the same expectations for behavior, my kids just go nuts and I feel like I’m spiraling out of control. What kinds of expectations should I give my kids when we’re going to be around others and how do I hold them accountable to them?”
KEEP CALM. As with all parenting frustrations, the first step is always to breathe. The skill of composure helps us to turn off the negative responses to our situations and refocus our energy in a positive direction. Take a moment to breathe deeply and calm yourself.
BE CONSISTENT. Good expectations for behavior around others won’t necessarily be any different than your expectations at home. For example, your expectations at home may be, “kind words” “helpful hands” “listening ears” etc. When you’re going to be around others, remind your child of these expectations and help them to make healthy commitments to follow them.
STAY POSITIVE. Remember to phrase expectations in a positive way. For example, instead of “no hitting” you would say something like “keep your hands to yourself.” It would be great to use visuals for these as well. Keep the number of expectations between 3 and 5. Too many will be overwhelming.
USE VISUALS. Since children think in pictures, visuals are always a helpful tool for communicating. Print our draw visuals to go with each expectation that are small enough to take with you. You can keep these in the car, your purse or other bag that you will have handy. Use these visuals when you are reviewing them with your children, such as right before you get out of the car.
ATTRIBUTE POSITIVE INTENT. If (actually, it’s more like when) they begin to get wild, stay in your place of calm and attribute positive intent to the misbehavior. You do this by saying to yourself, “Oops, they must have forgotten their commitments and expectations,” rather than “I can’t believe they are acting like this…they know better!” Positive intent helps you stay in a problem-solving state and helps you to offer those problem-solving skills to your child. You can even demonstrate this skill to your child when you approach them about their behavior. While you might be tempted to ignore the behavior altogether, or choose a frustrated or angry response, instead begin with something like, “Oops! It looks like you have forgotten your commitments for helpful behavior. Let me help you remember so we can all stay safe.” Remember to use a sincere tone, not a sarcastic one. This isn’t a time for sarcasm or shaming, it’s a time for teaching.
DEPLOY YOUR TOOLS. Depending on what they’re doing, you may verbally remind them of the expectations like this, “Remember helpful hands. Helpful hands do not hit.” If you have them, use your visuals. Pull out the visual and use it to remind your child or the expectation like this, “Look here. Remember kind words.” You can also tie in a consequence with an if/then statement like this, “If you hit, then will happen. What will happen if you hit?” and have them repeat it to you. Follow up with any clarification and a tie to safety or logic, like this, “Yes, if you hit, ______ will happen, so I can keep you safe.”
YOU’VE GOT THIS! Parenting is a tough gig! It’s easy to be tempted to revert to “old tools” and “quick fixes” when you’re under the perceived pressure of other parents or family members watching you. You may not want to seem “too mean,” especially if the other parents are letting their children run wild. On the other end of the spectrum, you may not want to seem like a “push-over” under the judgmental watch of uber authoritarian types. In these moments, remember your own commitments. You (and your children) are not in the public eye to “put on a show” for others, so let that pressure fall off of you like water off of a duck’s back. You have committed to raise your children with loving and respectful guidance. Take a deep breath and know that you’ve got this! As always, I wish you well!