People often ask me how we’ve raised kids who are so well-behaved and I usually don’t know what to say because I think there are LOTS of different things I could point to. I just read an awesome comment from a friend who has 16 children and I think she hits the nail on the head…
“…the best advice I ever got got 16 years ago (from a father of 13 wonderful children, over 1/2 now grown, who are all independent thinkers, no robots among the group and really great people to be around) was that he was nearly done with discipline by the time they were out of the high chair, (18 months) and he could spend the rest of their lives discipling them, and enjoying them. He trained his children to obey his words (Come to papa, no, don’t touch that, stop right there, be very quiet, etc) As a result, he had children that he could take everywhere with him, that could do things with everyone, that no one dreaded coming over. Their obedience gave them so much freedom, and the open doors were great…”
Early training is probably one of the biggest reasons my children are well behaved, and I can take them everywhere with me (we once attended a symphony concert with a two year old!) One of the things we try to do is train them in the behavior we want, as opposed to disciplining them after they’ve already done what we DON’T want them to do. For instance, when we started music lessons and I knew I’d be taking all of the kids with me, I started teaching them to sit quietly. We’d all sit on the couch and set a timer for 5 minutes and everyone sat without talking. Eventually, we increased the time to 10 minutes. We never really needed to practice the entire 30 minutes (or eventually, 2 hours) that was needed during their lesson, because they knew what was expected.
I used to pretend to talk on the phone, to teach the kids not to interrupt me. When the kids are around 6 months old or so, I’ll start putting things in front of them and asking them not to touch them, and teaching them what “no” means. All of this is done deliberately and during times when I am able to be consistent, not in the midst of craziness when I’m frazzled and overwhelmed. It’s the difference between “training” children and “disciplining” them.
Usually, when parents discipline, it’s when their children have touched the off-limits item for the 18th time, Mom has had it and she spank’s Little Johnny in anger. Training involves teaching Little Johnny not to touch something BEFORE he starts attempting to, and during a time when Mom doesn’t have dinner on the stove, and a crying baby in her arms, and a telemarketer on the phone.
Have I been 100% consistent? Absolutely not! My fifth child broke every single special nick-knack in our house and he was the only child we ever child-proofed our kitchen cabinets for. And I’ll be the first to tell you that my kids aren’t QUITE as well behaved at home as they are in public! But I can say that when we’re consistent, and when we take the time to train them early, we see awesome results! And we have children we can take anywhere with us.