Nancy S. Buck, Ph.D.

Nancy S. Buck Ph.D.

Peaceful Parenting

Get Your Children Under Control In Public

Leave your children at home where they belong!

Posted Jun 24, 2011

One of my favorite personal grooming chores is going to the hairdresser. I usually enter the salon with my mind racing in all directions of tasks yet undone. But after the pampering, focus, and single beauty nurturing of my hairdresser, I leave feeling lovely and ready to face the world with renewed light and cheer, not only from my new do but from my very soul.

My last visit was a dramatic departure! As my hairdresser was washing my head, I could feel an immediate tension in her hands. "Oh no," she said quietly under her breath. "Be prepared," she warned me.

A young mother had entered the shop with her four children, ranging in ages from 2 to 6. Their first stop, guided by their mother, was to the water bubbler, where each child got his or her own paper cup, pushed the button, filling the cup with water. What's the big deal? I'm thinking to myself.

But by the time Tammy finished washing my hair and had me wrapped in a towel, the chaos had begun. Sitting back in the chair at Tammy's station, I was amazed at what I observed. The mother was now sitting in her hairdresser's chair and talking with her loudly and nonstop!

Her children had scattered in four different directions in the shop. The eldest, a boy, had pumped an empty hairdresser's chair to its highest position and was sitting and spinning rapidly. The next oldest, a girl, was attempting to follow her brother's lead, except she was having trouble using the foot pump to elevate the chair.

The third in line, a girl, was now back at the water bubbler, having attempted to fill more than a few paper cups, sometimes succeeding in getting water in the cup, but just as often pouring water on the floor. And the baby was wandering through the waiting area, screaming something to her mother I could not understand. Mom did not seem to be the least bit interested or even conscious of any of her children.

"She comes in every other week, and it's always the same," Tammy confided in me. "One time, she had stopped at the donut shop first, so each child was eating sticky, gooey donuts, leaving a trail of sticky, gooey sprinkles in their wake. If I don't have a customer at that moment, I usually try to entertain or manage the two eldest."

Amazed, aghast, appalled, and disturbed just begins to describe what I was feeling. How could this mother set her children up into such a failing proposition? And how could this shop handle this situation with any kind of a respectful or reasonable solution?

What could her hairdresser possibly say that wouldn't totally insult this mother and then lose her business? Personally, I was thinking how much of a loss would it be? But not only does the mom get her hair done every other week, but the four children have their hair cut there, as well as the dad.

I bet at this point, each of you dear readers has a few solutions you could offer. "Get a babysitter and leave the children home where they belong," or "Have fewer children if you can't take care of the ones you have," or "Bring a mother's helper with you and pay someone to provide the service you are demanding this shop offer, even though that isn't their business," and I bet you can think of many more.

I want to share with all of you the top seven success strategies that parents can use when taking their children out in public, with the hope that his mother might possibly read this blog and get a clue! If you see her in your travels, you might share it with her.

1. Establish rules that everyone is expected to follow when you are out in public together. Generally, all rules should include respecting self, respecting others, and respecting property. Depending on your child's age, you will explain and get more specific.

But certainly, no child should be allowed to pump up the seat of a professional hairdresser's chair. This is not respecting property. Depending on your own experience with your child, you can add other specific rules as well. For instance, I had a rule that the boys were not allowed to play hide and seek up under clothes racks.

2. Before you enter the public place, make a plan with your child for how your time together will transpire. What do you want? How do you see your child managing this event? What does your child want? How does your child see himself and you managing the event?

You can talk about this plan well before your scheduled appointment, like the evening before, or that morning while you are eating breakfast, or in the car just before you enter the building. But talk about what a successful public outing will be like for you both. Plan for it!

3. Be sure to build into the plan something enjoyable for your child to do while you are busy or occupied elsewhere. So if you are sitting in the hairdresser's chair, have a book or Etch-a-Sketch or Crayola magic paints to occupy your child's interest. Remember, children have a huge need for fun and will figure out how to follow this urge in responsible and appropriate ways if you plan for it. If not, they will figure out other ways, like playing with hair dye or scissors—yikes!

4. Just before you enter the building, review your established rules. I would usually do this once we had parked the car at our designated destination, but before we exited. Once you have done this process enough, all you will have to do is ask your children, "What are the rules?" and they will tell you.

5. This next step is probably the most important of the whole process. Ask your children, "Do you have it in you today to follow the rules?" I mean this sincerely. If your child tells you that she cannot follow the rules today, she is not able to be respectful of herself, other people, or property, believe her and go home!

If you follow this process regularly, I promise your child will rarely say he cannot follow the rules. If you have more than one child, ask each one. If only one says he cannot follow the rules, believe him, and go home.

Although you may be skeptical, if you believe your child and avoid the area where your child is telling you she cannot operate within the given rules, you will only need to do this once! If you work with your children to make the outing a fun event, they will want to follow the rules and go with you.

6. If your child begins to slip into irresponsible misbehavior, immediately and calmly (and if possible privately) ask your child, "Remember our plan? Remember, you said you could follow the rules? Do you need my help in doing that now, or can you make a better choice by playing with your game?" And follow this process every time. There is no need to yell, yank, or threaten your child. Simply and calmly remind your child that you are in this together.

7. Once you are back in the car, everyone is given an opportunity to self-evaluate his or her ability to follow the plan. Please remember that this is a self-evaluation. You are not evaluating your child's success or failure. You are evaluating yourself.

Here is the question everyone is answering: How did you do in following our plan? After everyone has answered that question, then everyone answers: Is there anything we should do differently for the next time? Even if your child did what you consider an awful job, and the child says she did great, stay focused on what you did in following the plan and your own self-evaluation.

Please remember that no one will evaluate honestly if they feel they have something to lose, including your love and respect, when you correct their self-evaluation. The more you ask your child to self-evaluate without negative consequences, the more honest and accurate this self-evaluation will become. Stay focused on asking yourself about how you did staying calm and cool when your child was misbehaving? Were you able to simply ask your child about his commitment to the plan rather than begin yelling or ignoring, hoping for the best?

That's it: my seven simple steps to a successful and harmonious family outing. The more you practice this with your family, the better you will all be in working the plan out together.

And the more you are able to create happy, fun-filled family outings, the greater the chance I have for enjoying my personal ritual of peace and serenity at the hairdresser.