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How to Get Acceptable and Appropriate Behavior from Your Children... in Public - Abby Sasscer

How to Get Acceptable and Appropriate Behavior from Your Children… in Public


Abby Sasscer has four simple solutions to calmly change things that typically cause anxiety and behavior meltdowns in public into precious teaching moments.

From the "Top 20 All Time Most Popular Articles."

Editors Note:Originally published February 3, 2014.

Simple Solutions- Part 3: Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively

“That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth, the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill” – Proverbs 1:2-5

The Scripture passage above hit me the most as I continued to search for calm and effective ways to teach my children good behavior.  Despite the fact that I’m in my 40’s, I feel that it is never too late to learn something new especially if that knowledge will help me become a better parent and help my children get to Heaven one day.

One of the most difficult situations for me is to be able to teach my children acceptable and unacceptable behaviors especially when they start acting up in public places.

Certain days of the week are pegged out for errands which does a beautiful job of upending our peaceful daily schedule.  This disruption from our usual routine causes much anxiety for my children and will, more often than not, trigger negative behaviors in public.

When I began working with children with special needs, I was blessed to have the calm example of our assigned behavior specialist. I have witnessed time and again how she calmly thwarts possible meltdowns in public and turn them into powerful teaching moments.  Her calm, confident and tranquil presence is proof to me that angels still do walk the face of this earth!

Four Simple Solutions

One of the things the behavior specialist taught me was the value of preparing children before entering any public situation.  She also taught me certain cues to calmly remind children what acceptable and appropriate behaviors are expected of them in public.  Below are four simple solutions:

1) Make an Agenda

An agenda is different from a daily schedule or routine.  An agenda is a list of highlights of the day and includes activities that are outside of the daily routine.  Agendas are perfect for crazy days especially when we have many errands to run.  During these crazy days, the children and I write our agenda during breakfast time.  It is a perfect way to communicate events that will be happening so that the children are in the know.

If they know the family agenda for the day, chances are, they will not get too involved in an activity since there is a possibility they will have to leave at any time.  Allow the children to check off or cross things out on the agenda so they will also feel a sense of accomplishment during the day.  If children get too distracted, remind them:

What’s next on our agenda children?

Sample Agenda

__Morning Schoolwork
__Doctor’s Appointment
__Grocery Shopping
__Brush Teeth

2)  Give children a chance to wrap up

When we are getting ready to leave the home, sometimes our children still get too involved in certain activities even though we have already provided an agenda.  In this situation, it is prudent to give children a chance to wrap up before getting ready to leave.  We do this by calmly giving them a countdown.

For example:

Children started playing while everyone is getting ready for errand day.  Ten minutes before leaving, say:

Parent:  Children, we have to leave in ten minutes.  You can play for a couple more minutes and then it’s time to put on your coats.

Children:  Okay.

Moments later,

Children:  We’re leaving in five minutes.  Wrap up what you’re doing and put on your coats.

Child:  Okay.

Moments later,

Parent:  Two more minutes and it’s time to go!

Child:  Okay!

Moments later,

Parent:  Time to go to the van everyone!

At this time, children should already be more than willing to leave the house without incident.

This technique can be used for homeschooling as well.  A countdown can help them transition better from their current activity to a brand new one.

For example:

Children are playing in their rooms and homeschool starts in ten minutes.

Parent:  Children, homeschool in ten minutes.  You can play for about five more minutes then it’s time to start picking up your toys.

Children:  Okay!

Moments later,

Parent:  Children, homeschool in five minutes.  Time to wrap up!

Child:  Okay!

Moments later,

Parent:  Children, time to homeschool.

Children should be able to come ready to do their work.   As time goes on, children will already know to wrap up when you give them the first countdown.  At this point, staggered countdowns are no longer necessary.

3)    Communicate your expectations clearly

Another term I use for this technique is briefing.  Briefing occurs when a parent tells children behavioral rules and expectations shortly before entering a certain place, event or situation.

It gives the parent the opportunity to lay down  three rules so children know what is expected of then prior to entering a situation such as going to church, grocery store, or a family function.  Because briefing happens shortly before an event occurs, children are most likely to remember acceptable behaviors that are expected of them.

For example:

Parent:  Children, we are about to enter the Church and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  While in Church, it is important to be respectful to our Lord and to others around you.  I expect three things from each of you:

  1. Please genuflect slowly and reverently.
  2. Whisper only.  No loud voices allowed.
  3. Keep still and focus on the altar.

What are the three rules again?

(Allow children to repeat the rules)

Parent:  Wonderful.  If you do these things, you will make Jesus and Mom and Dad very happy.  Is everyone ready?

Briefing can also be used before entering a grocery store.

For example:

Parent:  Children, we are about to enter the grocery store which is a public place.  I expect everyone to behave properly in public.  While in the store, I expect three things from each of you:

  1. Do not wander.  Stay close to Mama’s grocery cart.
  2. Nothing can be placed on the cart without my permission.
  3. Pointing and whining are not allowed.  Use words if you need something.

What are the three rules again?

(Allow children to repeat the rules)

Parent:  Excellent!  If you do these things, you will make Jesus and Mama Mary very happy.  Is everyone ready?

4) Calmly remind children of acceptable behaviors

This technique is most effective when a child is on the verge of or in the beginning stages of a negative behavior.  This is a perfect way to remind them to make choices that are appropriate and acceptable.

For example:

Children are at Mass and one of them begins to speak loudly in the middle of Mass.  Mother whispers in the child’s ear and says:

Do you remember the rules?  Think about your choices carefully.

The goal of this technique is to stop them mid-track and thwart any chances of negative behavior from escalating.  Consequently, it is essential that the parent remind the children during the early stages of the negative behavior.

Other variations may include:

– You make Jesus happy each time you make good choices.
– Mama knows you can make good choices right now.
– Think about your choices carefully.
– Ask Jesus to help you make good choices today.
– Think about your actions right now.
– What actions will make Jesus happy?

Simple and Doable

The techniques above do not take much time at all to implement and allows us parents to take something that can typically cause anxiety and turn it into precious teaching moments.  It is my hope that these simple and doable solutions can benefit your family as much as it has benefited mine.

A Parents’ Prayer

O God the Father of mankind, who hast given unto me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for eternal life: help me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may be able to fulfill this most sacred duty and stewardship. Teach me both what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me to be gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety, so that at last I may, with them, be admitted to the unspeakable joys of our true home in heaven, in the company of the blessed Angels and Saints. Amen.

This is the third in this series of articles. Read the first article, 4 Simple Solutions for Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively. The second article is in the series is The #1 Secret to Being Patient and Strong with Your Children.

Stay tuned for more!

About Abby Sasscer

Born in the Philippines, Abby came to the United States in 1986. She is a wife, homeschooling mother of three, author, and speaker. In 2008, she founded Project Nazareth and continues to advocate simple living through books and speaking. www.projectnazareth.info | Meet Abby
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