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Toddler on dirt road, holding adult's hand

We had a nice day at a coffee shop this weekend.

At least, it began nicely.

My husband opened his laptop to do a bit of work, I cracked the spine on a new book, and my boy quietly played with some toys we’d brought. After just a few pleasant, quiet moments at our table, that same little well-behaved son was whining, squirming and making demands concerning the glass case of bakery treats.

In these times, it can be hard for me to stand my ground. I have such happy visions of a nice day out for the family, and I can be reluctant to let go. Knowing that I have to step into my role as disciplinarian can be exhausting and sort of disappointing.

Other times, overly concerned about the folks around me, I can convince myself that the fastest way to stop the disruption for everyone is to cave to this little tyrant (it’s not).

But, when I’m being fair and reasonable, I know that if I give that treat to my son when he’s acting inappropriately, I’ll be setting a pretty awful precedent. It tells him that I don’t mean what I say, and as a result, can’t be trusted. It shows him that bad behavior is rewarded. And it teaches him nothing about how to handle himself in public.

When I can separate myself from my own disappointment, my expectations for the day, my worries about being perceived as a “mean parent” by those around me, and my frustration with this squirmy little three-year-old, I have a much better handle on the situation. I try to keep in mind that my boy is still learning how to behave in different situations, nuances of social protocol and etiquette, and how to control his little emotions. When I do, it makes it easier to remember that sometimes keeping something from him is just a means to helping him understand, rather than some act of cruelty.

Our lovely morning at the cafe ended with our reluctantly passing the glass bakery case, making our way to the car a bit earlier than we’d hoped. But, I’m hopeful that my determination to follow through will be rewarded with a pleasant, tantrum-free outing. Maybe next time.

Other suggestions on following through with children:

Praise. While it’s important to follow through on consequences when your child is not behaving appropriately, it’s also important to give praise and recognition when they are doing well and living up to your expectations.

Think before you speak. Often times in frustration we will threaten things we have no intention of following through with – getting rid of all the toys, turning the car around, etc. Since it’s so important to follow through with consequences, only warn your child of those that you are willing to actually perform.

Clarify. Always make it clear to children which behaviors are appropriate for which scenarios, and which behaviors are never acceptable.

Remain calm. State consequences and other thoughts calmly and collected without anger or lecturing. Raising your voice or getting mad is a behavior you don’t want to demonstrate to your little one.

Be consistent. Yes, at times you have to pick your battles, but kids won’t learn that their bad behaviors have consequences if there isn’t some sense of consistency. 

Liz Moorhead

Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.