Posted by: Kate | February 23, 2009

Please Just Behave Today

I heard a mother whisper it, several times, to her 4- and 6-year-old sons, as we climbed the stairs to the SEE Science Center in Manchester.  Please just behave today.  Please.

It was a lot of stairs, so she had plenty of time to repeat herself.

The boys?  Did not, apparently, hear her even once.

They were loud, and rude, and pushy, and overly inquisitive, and demanding; and not just of their own mother.  They were asking other adults to do things for them, shoving little kids out of the way… generally behaving exactly like those kids you see in the mall and you lean over to your own kid and murmur, “See how that kid is behaving?  I’m so glad you’re not like that.”

And it occurred to me that I have never uttered that sentence to my own kids.  I’ve asked them to behave before, but in a more authoritarian, direct sense: “Get through the grocery store with me here, and then you can go home and scream your heads off.”  I can count on one hand the number of embarrassing, fall-down, screaming, kicking, public tantrums thrown by either of my children.  It’s just not their style.  I can’t chalk it up to excellent parenting on my part, because so much of this is just guesswork and I’ve made enough obvious mistakes that I’m sure I’ve made plenty of more subtle errors, too.

But I’ve always had a sort of serene sense of confidence, that if we are out in public, my kids will adhere to some minimal level of behavior.  They won’t necessarily be angelic paragons of politeness and patience, but they’ll be reasonable and they’ll listen to redirection.  A big part of this is due to the fact that, if I don’t think they can handle an outing – if they’re tired, or sick, or suffering the company of a stressed-out or tired Mama, or any number of other possibilities, I’ll postpone or cancel an outing rather than push us all through something we really aren’t prepared to deal with.  (This is why we have established a firm family rule: NO restaurants on Friday nights.  It always sounds like a good idea at 4:00, and by 6:00 we’re harried and miserable, one and all.)  I’m also reasonably good at keeping our new few days’ schedule in mind: if I know we’re going to a museum tomorrow, then I’ll probably stay home today.  It’s just balance, really.

And so it made me wonder, how many other people have this confidence about their children’s behavior in public, and how many need to whisper a quiet, desperate mantra on the stairs?  I hope that, especially as children get older and, therefore, more predictable (to a point…), the balance leans more toward the former.



  1. It has become a running joke in our family that whenever we go somewhere, as we’re about to enter, I always say, “Okay everybody – best behaviour!” And then D’Arcy responds, “Do you think she’ll ever tell us to be on our worst behaviour?”

    Our kids know that good behaviour is expected of them, and (lucky for us) they follow through!

  2. I’m just not the sort of mom that will beg a child to behave. It’s an expectation, especially in public where my resources/sanity may be limited. I think it has helped that LouLa has been out in public enough so that she knows what is okay. It also helps that I talk enough about new situations ahead of time so that she knows what to expect. And, ultimately, it helps that I have played the Mean Mommy card and we have left places where it just wasn’t working out.

  3. I know I have not trained her to have tantrums, as I have never ever ever given into one. Lane just truly just feels her disappointment so intensely she just can’t help but melt down, and I’ve figured out few tricks to help her avoid a meltdown. Coupled with her enormous energy level, she’s not exactly the most pleasant child to be around every minute of the day.

    But, despite that, she has the willpower to pull it together when necessary… that being when Mommy says “You have ten seconds to pull yourself together or we are leaving. NOW.” Or, whatever other consequence I know will work best. And when she doesn’t then the consequence happens, and she knows it. So while she can be challenging, when it gets to be out of hand, I can usually convince her to nip it in the bud… or I nip it in the bud for her. Which has, occasionally, meant carrying her screaming out of wherever we are.

    Not to imply she’s constantly intolerable. She’s mostly a good, well-behaved kid. Just the times she’s insufferable, she’s amazingly insufferable.

    All that said, I have never pleaded with her to behave. Where’s the power in pleading? How on earth could I expect to maintain any semblance of parental authority over the situation if I directly project that SHE has the power? I might as well just give her carte blanche to climb up the walls and scream her head off.

  4. Ha…. notice I didn’t even mention Jake in that comment?

  5. My kids are pretty well behaved. If they’re not, I’m on top of it and don’t let it get out of hand. I’ve never pleaded with them…that seems to tell them that they are in control, not me. I would warn them that we will leave somewhere if they are misbehaving…and then actually leave if they don’t listen. You seem a lot more like me in terms of parenting style.

  6. Autumn is 17 now, but when she was little, if she tried to lose her composure in public, I would gently scoop her up and we would simply leave the premises, regardless of the situation before she entered full-meltdown stage. If I needed to pay for a meal or our beverages, I would just leave the money on the table. If we were in a store, I would leave un-purchased items in the cart where it sat or on the floor and we would simply and quietly walk out. “Girls who are pleasant and polite get to do fun things. Girls who are unpleasant and impolite do not get to do fun things,” was all I said to her in my very best calm mommy voice as we went to the car. She pushed her boundaries about three times before she realized I meant business and I haven’t had any difficulty with her behavior in public since.

  7. Now that we have hearing aids for Derek things have gotten much better. I totally agree it is a balancing act (but many people don’t get it) and I try to do the same as you home the day before an outing…though some days it gets to be too much with doctors so every once in awhile some one gets a crazed child. Yeaterday wasa prime example: the doctor has only afternoon office hours and Derek still takes a nap. his 1:15 apppointment lasted until 2:30 and by the end he was tired & fidgety (plus they dialated his eyes so he was extra sensitive to the bright lights in the exam room.) The doc kept getting after him and I was trying to wrap up the appointment, I wasn’t interested in hearing about his father’s friend 80+ who had a kidney transplant. I think this is the hardest for me since many of the specialists here have office appointments in the afternoon, granted it is better for parents with school age children and young infants.

  8. My kids are awesome in public. Even Thomas, who has a diagnosis that supposedly makes him more prone to public outbursts, has never really lost it completely. Then again, he loses it with us at home all the time, but that’s different.

    Some of it’s luck, I think, since I think even the best parent can just lose control. I hope my kids stay as well-behaved as they get bigger. If they don’t, I’ll kick their little butts.

  9. My girls are great in public. I have them under pretty good eyebrow control – they know they need to settle down if I raise an eyebrow at them. I almost never even have to do that.

    Campbell is still the wild card – he’s every inch the two-year-old boy. But we’re working on him.

  10. I’m happy to report my kids are great in public (95% of the time). Of course, I have never given in to tantrums so they never need to throw one.

    And it also helps that I have a son who is so deathly shy of other people that he would NEVER misbehave. It might draw attention to himself and that would be just be too embarrassing

    It is that 5% that comes out as a surprise, like suddenly deciding that running through the grocery store is okay or hiding under the table at the restaurant. These things happen very infrequently.

  11. Other way round with me these days. My daughter is constantly telling me I talk too loudly or berate the check out chick with my glare or stare at people too intensely. . it’s me they’re pleading with to ‘behave’.

  12. Children will often mirror what they have been taught. OUCH !! Makes us re-evaluate our own behaviours.

  13. I have Hellions at home, but in public? They’re much more civilized, thankfully. And I’m really and truly grateful for the fact that all 3 of my boyz aren’t really physical. Sure, with each other, they are. But I never have to worry that it’s my son who has pushed/hit/kicked another child.

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