When we think about "good behavior" we have to first ask ourselves some questions. What am I expecting my child to do, or not do, that qualifies as "good behavior"? Does my child fully understand my expectations? Is my child mature enough to comply with my expectations?
We're busy parents and often on the go with our children. Sometimes we haven't considered these questions before we take our children here and there. Our children have no way of knowing what to expect or how to
behave in unfamiliar situations unless we tell them and show them.
Have a clear plan and a back up plan.
Bringing a few toys, children's books or other distractions is a good first step to avoid the boredom that can result in misbehavior. Another step is to explain clearly, "we have to wait here a little so I want you to sit by me and read your book", or whatever activity you think is appropriate. Packing snacks and drinks to take along will also help you avoid the bribe of "fast food" for good behavior. We often do these things when our
children are babies, but it's easy to forget that the 4 or 5 year old will still find it difficult to sit still or behave well when they have nothing to do.
Let's say you're going to get your car worked on and you need to wait in the waiting room until it gets done. You sit down and pick up a magazine, but there are no magazines, books or toys for children. On top of that, it's not the cleanest or safest environment. Your 3 or 4 year old child wants to play, they are bored and they
want your attention. You tell them to sit and look at a magazine, but they start ripping the pages.
It may be annoying, and you may think your child should just do what you tell them, so you tell them to stop. Now they don't know what to do. An energetic, curious or slightly hyperactive child might start running around the room, bothering other customers, jumping on chairs, or whine and fuss to get your attention. This could turn into a battle or even a temper tantrum.
Some possible solutions involve you modeling a desired behavior instead of just telling them to stop. For example, sit them on your lap and look at the magazine together, point out things in pictures or make up a game, let your child tell you what the pictures are about. You're showing them how to use their imagination to entertain themselves. If you've brought toys but they still get bored, interact in their game playing to make it more interesting. If the child gets too antsy go for a walk together, preferably outside, tell them to look for a rock of a certain size or color. By interacting with them we're teaching our children how to behave properly.
Know your child's limitations.
Avoid scheduling appointments during nap times, meal times or other times that interrupt your child's usual routine or would cause them to be cranky because of hunger or tiredness. Some children need down time when going from one activity to another, for example they may need a snack and some relaxing time after school. If you're staying overnight away from home try to keep the same schedule and bedtime routine as usual. Every child is different so understanding their unique needs and limitations will help you guide their behavior.
Arrange the environment so it is child friendly.
Many doctor's offices provide play areas now, but sometimes grandma's house is still a "don't touch" zone. Sometimes we do have to say "no", but providing alternative activities and play areas is a good idea. Putting temptation out of sight could avoid a lot of battles and tears.
Provide positive choices.
When kids are getting annoyed with each other you might ask them to play separately for awhile or go outside and play. When your child gets frustrated with their homework suggest they take a break and help you prepare dinner. Offering choices gives your child the chance to change their behavior before it becomes bad.
Set realistic rules and follow through with discipline.
What is realistic at each age? A two year old wants to see what happens when they do something, and this creates very challenging behavior. Too many words lose their meaning, so it's best to be brief and to the point and then distract them with another activity. A 3 or 4 year old can understand and follow rules much better. Positive rules that we model for them work much better than negative ones. For example, "books go on the bookshelf" instead of "don't leave your books laying all over the place".
Involve the child in setting limits.
This might seem strange, but my husband would sometimes say to our misbehaving kids "What would you do if you were the parent?" It would cause them to think beyond their own situation and viewpoint. Of course this doesn't always work, but you get the idea. Children have a conscience and are concerned about fairness and what's right, we can use this to help them learn to behave well. Asking the questions, "Would you like someone to treat you that way?" or "What should we do about this problem?" helps them learn to reason with themselves and create their personal code of conduct.
A lot of misbehavior can be avoided when we plan well, focus on "do's" more than "don'ts", give our children the attention they need and model the desired behavior. It's just that we live busy and hectic lives which makes it easy to forget that we are our children's first and most important teacher.