Not to brag or anything but my kids behave pretty well in public (when you have a lot of kids, there simply isn’t room for a lot of naughtiness. One bad kid is just a handul. Six bad kids is a recipe for total insanity). Last week I took them to Costco and left them sitting at the table in the food area while I waited in line for ten minutes for stupid hot dogs. When I came back the old husband and wife sitting at the table next to ours complimented me on my well-behaved children and said their grandchildren never behaved that nicely. I mentally patted myself on the back for my stellar parenting skills. Big mistake.
Not three minutes later I took a bite of Jasper’s hot dog. Apparently that was the insult of the century because Jasper flipped out, including such pride-inducing bahaviors as writhing on the ground under the table, screaming at the top of his lungs, and throwing his sandals at me. The old couple just looked on, chuckling. I tried to smile and joke, “thanks for jinxing me!” which I sort of meant. Jasper kept wailing that he must have a new hot dog, unsullied by me. I told him I didn’t have any more money (it’s my favorite excuse because kids simply can’t argue with that one. If there’s no money, there’s money. End of story.) The old man at the next table whipped out his wallet and said, “I’ll buy him another hot dog!” I had to inform him that Jasper wouldn’t be getting another hot dog, which would only reward him for his temper tantrum. I was really shocked that these old people would be such softies.
I pretty much belong to the Stern and No-Nonsense school of parenting. I am kind but firm and what I say, goes. I don’t beg or implore. The real bonus of this parenting style comes when I’m out in public. Who hasn’t been to a park or restaurant playground and seen a desperate parent trying to get their child to leave? It’s pretty humiliating having to beg and threaten a three-year-old in front of a bunch of other people.
The best strategies I have learned are from a book called Kid Cooperation by Elizabeth Pantley (great reviews on Amazon, by the way. It’s not a philosophical parenting book. It’s an “I need help now” parenting book). My favorite chapter is called “5, 3, 1, go” and it’s all about getting your child to leave when you want him to (leaving someplace fun, in particular). The idea is that first of all, you don’t tell your child it’s time to leave until you mean it (who hasn’t said, “it’s time to go, kids” then spent fifteen more minutes talking to another mom.) It’s also not fair to not give your kids a warning that playtime is drawing to a close. We all like a head’s up when something fun is about to end.
When you really, truly are getting ready to go, give your children a five minute warning. Which is kind of a pain if you have to walk around the park trying to locate six children. But the great think is that this method totally pays off. It’s worth it. Trust me. Then you give them a warning at three minutes. Then another warning when there is one minute left of playtime. When the minute is up, tell them it’s time to go. Remind them to get their jackets and shoes and then leave. You will not beg. You will not yell, “I mean it! Now!” If there is dawdling or they are ignoring you, simply leave. Yep, you start heading out to the car or walking out the door of McDonalds. (I usually shout “bye, guys” to at least get their attention). Kids hate being left, even the older ones and they’ll eventually get the picture and scurry after you.
When your kids know that it’s time to go and that you are 100% serious, they will come along. The more you do this the easier it gets. Last night we went to a swim party and I did my typical 5,3,1 routine. When it was time to go I had six kids get out of the pool right away (except for Arabella who “didn’t hear me”. She’s a little passive aggressive. But she did get out about 30 seconds later when she saw us walk out of the pool area.) Parenting should really be called “kid training” because that’s what it is. Children have to be trained to know how to behave (some learn faster than others, though). Either they are going to be trained to ignore you because there are no consequences if they do, or they are going to be trained to obey you. It really is your choice.
The nice thing about this method is that there is no yelling, no pleading, no raised tempers. Consequences (like being left behind) are a much more effective teacher than ranting and raised voices.