I was out at the store the other day and I saw a mom fuss at her son. He was only 2 or 2 1/2 years old. He was out of the cart and he picked up a gift card of the rack by the cash register. He looked at it, turned it over and then tasted it. Typical toddler behavior. His mom turned and saw him sticking it in his mouth and fussed at him. She grabbed it out of his hand and said, "don't put that in your mouth. Stop that!" He was confused. You could tell from his eyes and the expression on his face. But he went on looking at the other things on the racks by the register and grabbed something else. Again, his mom turned and grabbed the item out of his hands and said, "Quit grabbing things. Don't touch."
Now I stood there silently watching the mom get all frustrated and the little boy not understanding why he can't touch. The items are right there at his height and look so inviting in their pretty wrappers and packaging. It also seemed that this little boy didn't understand why his mom was so frustrated with him and he didn't understand why he was being scolded.
It reminded me of a time when my kids were younger and I would get frustrated by them in similar situations. What was different was that I remembered that I hadn't taught my kids that skill or the rule before I scolded them. I would then get down on their level and tell them my expectations and tell them how I wanted them to behave instead of scolding.
We teach our children many things but mostly through reactive parenting rather than proactive parenting. We teach them by scolding them when they do wrong and forget to set them up for success. By proactively teaching them how and when we want them to behave and what behaving means we can avoid many of these situations.
Before I would take all three of my toddlers in a store we sat in the car in the parking lot and talked about what I expected them to do and how I expected them to behave. For us the conversation was similar to this:
"When we get out of the car, I need you to hold my hand while we are walking to the store. I want you to hold your sister's hand and I will hold her hand while I carry the baby in my other arm. When we get into the store we will get a cart but you two will have to walk next to the cart while the baby sits in the cart. You MUST hold onto the cart while are in the store. You will see lots of things you may want to touch but don't touch it. If someone says hello to you say hello back. If we can do these things then we can be quick. If we can't do these things then we will be in there a long time and you won't have time to play when we get home."
I never promised my kids a toy or a piece of candy. It was just my expectations and praise at the end of the shopping trip for their good behavior. My kids did great with this because they wanted to please me and they knew the consequences if they misbehaved (no play time later, mom fussing at them, etc.)
While we were in the store if I saw other children that were misbehaving (crying or screaming in the cart, running away from their mom, picking up items, etc) I would point that out to my kids. I would show them the misbehaving child and let them see what misbehaving looks like. I would also ask my children to look at the mom of the misbehaving child and see her frustration in her face and her actions. I would say something like, "look at that mommy and see how upset she is that her child is screaming. See how she is fussing at that boy. We don't want to act that way in the store. We want to be quiet and follow all my directions so we can get the things we need and get home to play, right?" They would see the behavior and understand what I am trying to teach them not to do in a store.
Did this take me a while to teach? Yes. Was it worth it? YES!
We need to remember that if we teach our children correct behavior by talking about the good behaviors we want them to show and by talking about the bad behaviors we don't want them to show. We show them poor behavior when we see it in others and talk about that. We can then prevent having to reprimand our children in public as well as set them up for success and praise.
Do I fuss at my kids? Yes, when I know I have shown them how to act and they choose to use poor behavior. Do I fuss often? No, because I set them up for success.
Montessori Methodology goes one step further in their teaching style. The students are no allowed to touch or "play" with anything until they have had a lesson in how to interact with that object. They await for instruction on how to build the "pink tower" or how to arrange flowers in a vase, or even how to put a puzzle together. The teacher explains the proper use of the puzzle pieces and what not to do with those pieces. If the student uses or plays with something improperly then the teacher assumes they need another lesson. They receive another lesson and another if needed. There are right ways and wrong ways to explore their world and experiment with an object.
This makes sense if you think about it. We hand our child a toy and he bangs it on the table. We say NO don't bang. He then tastes it. We say NO don't lick it. He then throws it. We say NO, don't throw. We never told him how to play with it. With another toy we show him how to twist the knobs and it makes noise. He twists the knobs like we showed him and it makes noise. We say, YAY you did it! We set him up for success. The child smiles at the praise.
My kids are teenagers now but I am still proactively teaching them. We talk about new experiences that they may have, discuss options for when they find themselves in a specific situation, and practice those options. I can't tell you how often my kids come to me and say, "Mom I am so glad you told me about........ I was ready......." (I'm a big smiley faced mom when I hear those words.)