The old adage “Children should be seen and not heard” is itself little heard these days, and not everyone is sure that’s a good thing. Even people who are largely fond of children can entertain ugly thoughts when kids run screaming through the library. It doesn’t help that the parents often seem oblivious—or, worse, jump to their kids’ defense like mother bears should anyone try to intervene for the sake of property or human limb.
On the other hand, kids do have an inherent need to run and jump, and you don’t want to bombard them with “Settle down” admonitions until they’re either ultra-resentful or ultra-timid. These, then, are the rules of bringing up well-behaved and self-confident kids:
Kids aren’t made to sit still and be quiet 100 percent of the time. (Neither are adults, for that matter.) The first step in keeping your children from tearing around in public is to make sure they have opportunities to tear around on their own time. If you don’t have your own yard, and the streets in your neighborhood aren’t safe for free-roaming, your neighborhood school, community center, shopping mall, or library should have a free-play area and/or be able to recommend a public park.
Don’t always insist on “peace and quiet” inside your own home, either. Clear a room or part of a room for rough-and-tumble, stocking it with foam balls, punching bags, or beanbag chairs that can take being jumped on. And try to keep the rest of your home uncluttered and low on breakables; give the kids at least enough “sprinting room” to get between their own rooms and the outdoors without having to watch their every step.
It’s easy to assume that because we know store shelves and zoo railings aren’t for climbing, our children will instinctively realize it—but they often don’t. Before your family goes somewhere new (or somewhere you haven’t been in a while), explain the basics of:
You can make a game of this (“How will behaving at the zoo be like behaving at the park? Do you remember three things you shouldn’t do and five things you can?”)
No endless strings of “don’ts,” please. Emphasize what can be done and what will be fun. And don’t assume you have to cover every possible area of misbehavior in advance: an overview of general principles is often enough. A child who feels respected, rather than bossed, is a child who wants to behave. Respect is key—respect for other adults’ feelings and for your own children’s feelings.