Parenting hack: behavior zones

Thursday, August 10, 2017

We take our whole family to lots of places because that's naturally the kind of family we are, none of us are huge homebodies and we all love visiting new and familiar places together and with people we love.  One of our parenting tools up our sleeves to keep our kids in check while we are out in the world is to remind the kids constantly about appropriate behavior in various zones.  Our technique is heavy on the front loading and takes a lot of practice and vigilance.  The kids get all the glory in the end ("your kids are so well behaved") with nearly no nod to all the behind-the-scenes work it took to get to that point...but that's parenting in a nutshell, amirite?


So, our behavior zones parenting hack looks something like this -

Every single time we are in the car traveling anywhere (literally, every single time and no matter where we are going) - before we arrive, we turn the radio down and one of us will say, "does everyone remember how we behave at ______."

some examples:
Church:  absolutely quiet, praying, respectful, do what everyone else is doing (sit, stand, kneel)
Daddy's work: respectful, quiet, no running or jumping, saying please and thank you to everyone
The grocery store: no running, no jumping, being helpful, no wandering off
At a restaurant: not disturbing anyone else trying to enjoy their meal, no screaming, no running, no jumping, no wasting food, no knives
Friends' houses for solo playdates/sleepovers: please & thank you, respectful, sharing, cleaning up after your own messes
At playgrounds: sharing, no climbing up slides (if any other kids are there), no leaving anywhere without asking mum/dad first (even with someone we know), if someone cries or looks sad STOP what you're doing and ask if they're okay, help a kid if they need it (monkey bars, ladders) or get a grown up

(I'm laughing right now imagining my teenage kids making fun of us behind our backs in the future doing this to each other when they go somewhere without us.  Grey driving to a football party or something and turning down the radio when they're almost there and saying to Gemma, 'do you remember how we behave at party?' LOL)

So right before we arrive, the kids get a quick refresher on our behavior expectations for them.  If they have any questions, they can also ask us those too - like will certain people be there, how long we will be there, etc.  Everyone gets a front end summary of what to expect.

If we start to have a meltdown while we are out somewhere (nearly inevitable) the quickest way to bring a kid (works with Violet's age too, about two and half) back to sanity is to bring awareness to everyone else around us.  I pick the kid up (or lean down to them) and say something like, "Look around us, everyone here is also trying to get through their day.  Everyone is trying to enjoy/work/pray/have fun and they can't because they're worried about you. Get yourself under control." I offer to hold hands, have a hug, give them space/a break and sometimes I'll say, "You can still be sad/mad, but you must stop screaming and crying because it's not fair to everyone else."

Our behavior zone reminders work mostly because of this important part that goes along with it: "Kids who can behave well get to go to fun places."  If you can't behave in the waiting room at the doctor's office, you don't deserve to go fun places.  Mum is not taking kids that don't listen or try their best to places that are fun.  When we are on our way back home from wherever, we have a debrief on how our expectations were met.  "We are so proud of our well behaved kids! When you behave so respectfully I feel like we can take you anywhere and have fun!"  or "We had a really difficult time today, and how am I supposed to feel like I can take you guys places if we can't try our best and listen?"

We also give behavior scores (these hold no actual value besides temporary pride, but it seems to work).  Five is the best score you can get and Zero is the worst (we give halves too, hah).  We get scores too which makes them laugh because sometimes Daddy gets bad scores because Momma is always the score giver.  It's clear to the kids that our scores should reflect our age and abilities too. everyone laughs when Rusty gets a two at church because he's only a baby - but everyone cheers if Violet gets a four or above at church because she's still little. It's funny if Daddy gets a three because he's a grown up and should always get a five; Grey and Gem know less than a four for them is unacceptable. (It's also a quick check in when they are with their grandparents when they take them somewhere, although everyone knows grandparents have a more generous scale than Mom!).

We do something similar before a birthday party, because that is some tough narcissistic kid territory.  While we are on the way to a birthday party we say something like, "It's our friend's birthday today which means it's their special day and we are lucky to celebrate with them.  So they get to choose what games we play and what they want to do for their day.  And when it's our birthday, it gets to be your special day and you get to choose."  If they need a reminder while we are there (they start getting frustrated with not being in charge, or they try to butt in on present opening), it's an easy reminder whisper, "Not your special day," and they can usually get themselves back under control.

The important thing to note and a huge part of the balance of how this can work - is that there are places that have much less strict behavior limits.  Our house, especially our house in the yard is one of those (nearly) anything can go zones.  We're actually pretty loose in the house too (we don't have couch/bed jumping rules and balls are thrown in our house 24/7...because Greyson). They have pretty lax behavior rules at grandparents' houses too (some rules and behavior expectations obviously along with being respectful but it's fairly relaxed). So the kids do have a place where they can let loose, get out that energy, and be their own wild, insane selves.

By no means (ZERO) does this make for perfectly behaved kids.

Have I given a 'break' (read: timeout) to a kid in a public space? YEP.
Have I abruptly left a public space because kids were melting down too much? YEP.
Have I thanked strangers and employees for their patience with our children when they've had a difficult time? YEP.
Have I straight up turned the car around and gone home instead, on our way to the playground? YEP.
Have I 'grounded' our kids to their rooms for the afternoon when we get home from somewhere that they'd had a difficult time? YEP.
Have our kids said to us, "I know! I'm just going to my room right now!" because they already know they didn't mean expectations? YEP (lol)

We have to talk, talk, lecture, talk all the time about appropriate behavior and trying our best and keeping it together when we go places. But more often than not, Brandon and I are complimented on how well our children behave in public and we smile and say (loud enough for the kids to hear) 'Thank you' and in our best kindergarten teacher voices, "They are trying their best today, huh?"

Someday we won't have to do this.  Someday parenting won't be so front loaded and exhausting and demand constant vigilance.  But our hope is that if we do it now, the expectation will stick when they become people who go places without us and our constant reminders.  We want to raise respectful, aware, and kind humans and so for now - we dig in, we stay ever vigilant and on our toes while we are in the thick of this raising little human phase.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this awesome parenting reminder as we head back to school. You are exactly right-- setting expectations ahead of time can prevent so many parenting disasters!!!

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