“How do you get your children to sit still at church?”
“Why don’t my children sit still in public places?”
“What’s your secret to having good kids?”
These are some of the questions that I was asked when I took my children to public places when they were young. There were many more, but these are the ones that were repeated time and again.
I didn’t have any secrets to having well behaved kids, but I did take them to mass daily, and they knew that they were expected to behave. Just like other families, there were times that my husband or I had to take one or more of the kids to the back of the church when they were too loud or disruptive.
When I had younger children, who were not old enough to read or who had a shorter attention span, I would pack a bookbag for them that was only to be used while at church or in a public place. I would keep board books, paper dolls, non-messy coloring books with invisible ink, sticker books, and other quiet activities that would occupy them until they were old enough to understand that they needed to be respectful and pay attention.
While at church, I would encourage my children by occasionally telling them that they were doing a good job behaving and sitting quietly. I would lean over to the young child and whisper, “I’m so proud of you for being such a good boy (or girl) and for being quiet so that other people can pray.” I still do this with my grandchildren when they are with me in public. I wait for them to do something good and praise them for it, rather than shame them for doing something wrong and then punish them.
Children want to make their parents happy and proud, so they need to know at a very early age that they are pleasing us.
If I had any secrets to having a child behave in public, they would be summarized by the following:
- Take them to public places where they may practice good behavior regularly. Limit their experience to short time frames rather than take them to a 2 hour seminar at first.
- Take an age appropriate bag with quiet time activities to occupy them in public places.
- Catch them in their good behavior and praise them for it.
- Have discussions with the children on why they must behave in public and the consequences if they misbehave.
- Try to schedule your outing when it’s not nap time and make sure that your child has been fed before you go.