Help, my child won’t sit quietly in public!

June 9, 2015

A concert is about to start, and you are pleased to have brought your children. It is good for them to learn to appreciate the arts, and you are hoping your little ones will gain a love for beautiful music.

You smile as you look down the row, proud of how quiet they are for the moment. You are sure they will be so thrilled with the music that their behavior will be perfect for the whole two hours.

The conductor enters, bows, and raises his baton. Just then, someone’s young child decides that the toy in their lap is not acceptable anymore and tosses it at their nearest sibling. Annoyed, the sibling tosses it back, causing the younger one to scream in protest.

You are appalled and wonder whose child is making all that noise. Why doesn’t that mother do a better job of keeping her little one under control?

You look down the row at your perfect brood, grateful they are behaving appropriately. But then that same toy comes flying at you, and you realize that your precious offspring is the offending child.

Sound familiar? Children are notorious for causing their parents embarrassment in public. Although they are perfect angels at times, they are also very good at keeping us humble and causing us to miss countless meetings, concerts, and other events due to their behavior.

Children also seem to have difficulty during religious services. Some parents end up walking the halls with their unruly toddler. Some just stay home until their children are older. But other families seem to have perfect children who never have any trouble sitting still.

The secret is to make it more attractive to the child to stay quiet during the event rather than acting out. In fact, that secret works for almost all behaviors.

When children create a scene, they generally get rewarded with the freedom to run up and down the halls and do as they please. Naturally, they are going to get away with that as much as they possibly can.

In our family, the child earns something that is a lot less fun. He or she is taken to an empty room and placed on the parent’s lap. The parent then gently, but firmly, holds the child. There is nothing to play with, nowhere to run, and nothing interesting to watch. It takes about a minute for the child to realize that sitting quietly in the event or service is preferable to being in that room.

Most children only need one visit to the empty room. Occasionally, a child will need a reminder visit, but that is generally all that is needed.

Jen Ovard’s oldest son was quite rambunctious. For her, it was very important to attend church every week, so she needed to help him behave appropriately.

“Something we did with our son was not let him run around the foyer, as that was fun for him. I would hold him on my lap and gently hold his arms down so he couldn’t move. Then I would whisper in his ear things like, ‘Do you want to have a snack? Do you want to color? If you will be reverent, we can go back in and you can quietly play. But if you scream, we sit here and I hold you.’ I was very gentle with him, but he could not get off my lap and run around. He learned quickly that being in the meeting was more fun for him than sitting in the foyer being restrained.”

Now Ovard’s son is almost grown and helps her with the younger children.

A nursery teacher (who asked not to use her full name) used this method when a young boy wasn’t pleased about being in her class. He realized that if he cried and made a fuss, his parents would come get him. However, the parents felt he was old enough and independent enough to remain in nursery school.

The teacher asked permission of the parents to try this method and they agreed. At the next class, he started wailing as soon as he walked in the door. The teacher said, “Oh, my! We don’t cry in nursery! Nursery is a happy place! But we have a room you can cry in until you are ready to play.”

She took him into an empty room and held him, allowing him to cry, while occasionally saying, “When you are ready, we will go play with the toys. Nursery is a happy place. Are you ready to go play yet?”

He finally stopped crying, and they went to the nursery. However, as soon as they entered the room, he began crying again, so back they went for more time alone.

After about three times, he finally began playing as if nothing had happened, but he only got 10 minutes of play time in a 90-minute class.

The next time he came in crying, the teacher was ready. Off they went to the same boring room. Twenty minutes later, he was done crying, and they cheerfully headed off to nursery, where he played happily for the rest of the time. On the third day, the boy skipped in and headed for the toy closet. He never chose to spend time in the crying room again.

This method works because it is a logical consequence. It makes good behavior more desirable for kids than what happens when they misbehave.

It also makes being in public with your children more desirable for you. You might even be able to look down the row at your well-mannered children and smile.

Just don’t start feeling smug, though, because as soon as you do, a toy might come flying in your direction!

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