No public lectures needed to discipline children
DEERFIELD, ILL. — Parents, please stop lecturing your children in public. You are bothering everyone around you. Here's a case in point: I was at the grocery store. A 3-year-old girl wanted a piece of candy and was lying on the floor throwing a tantrum. The mother turned to her and said calmly, "If you don't stop crying, your privileges will be severely restricted. Mommy doesn't appreciate your behavior. And, anyway, you know candy contains a lot of sugar and is bad for you."
In the next aisle, a young boy sat in a grocery cart, crying and kicking his feet. He pointed to a toy soldier that he wanted to take home. "Honey, you seem to be having an issue with this," said his mother. "You know how Mommy and Daddy feel about guns."
Maybe I'm an old grouch, but does every request need an explanation? If our children ask for candy, do we need to launch into a lengthy lecture on nutrition? If a toddler sees a toy soldier, must we pontificate on the virtues of pacifism? Whatever happened to "Do it because I said so"?
We are talking too much. You hear these conversations all the time. They have become the child-rearing annoyance of the day.
I know. Experts advise us to talk to our children. They say the verbal abilities of children improve when a parent engages them in conversation. But aren't we going too far?
Peace at last, I thought as I settled into a comfortable chair at a coffee shop. But it wasn't to be. At a nearby table, a father typing on his laptop launched into an in-depth explanation on the workings of the microchip. His not-so-rapt audience was his son, strapped in a high chair, powdered sugar from a doughnut smeared all over his chin.
It gets worse. Recently I saw a little girl at the front of a Starbucks line trying to decide what to order while her mother explained why the fat-reduced muffin was healthier than the chocolate-chip scone. The child changed her mind several times, even though there were about 15 people behind her anxious to start their rush-hour commutes.
We're all mixed up. Our older children receive short replies such as "be quiet" or "stop arguing," and our toddlers get "privilege restriction" talks. It should be the other way around: High school kids should be reasoned with and toddlers should get answers that are short and sweet.
Our public places are being sabotaged – not by unruly children but by overly talkative parents. We've become mired in a perpetual state of teachable moments: good choices versus bad choices; why sugar is bad and fiber is good; why Mommy can't buy that GI Joe.
Experienced parents know that none of this works. At an early age, the child catches on and starts talking back in the same patient, logical voice. Voilà! A monster debater is born. And guess who wins most of the arguments?
I'm hoping someone will write a revolutionary book on parenting. The first chapter will be titled, "Take back control: how to discipline your children in public without talking too much." The book might include this advice:
1. Don't use words with more than two syllables when talking to a toddler. Eschew overused words such as "cooperate," "consequences," "privileges," and "inappropriate."
2. Use words and phrases such as "no," "stop," "hush up," and "because I said so."
3. Don't talk at all. Instead, use body language: Nod in agreement or shake your head as a sign of disapproval. This way you won't bother innocent bystanders.
4. Finally, use your "inside voices" when disciplining children in public.
Then maybe peace and quiet will reign again.
• Janine Wood is a homemaker and writer.