I am a Leadership Parenting Coach. I coach parents through the process of leading their kids to adulthood. The operative word is “lead”–it means to get in front of someone and start moving in the direction you want them to go so that they can follow you.
If you’re standing behind someone, you can steady them, encourage them, push or chase them, but you can’t lead them. You’d never think about going somewhere with your child without taking extra diapers and a snack and/or bottle, would you? And yet most of us do nothing to get ourselves and our kids ready for the situations we face every day.
When the meltdown occurs in the checkout lane of the grocery store, we try snacks, toys, distractions, blankies, anything we can think of, while trying not to get too angry and embarrassed. This is an example of trying to lead from behind–trying to get your child to behave in a certain way after the trouble has already begun.
Leading from the front means teaching your kids in advance how you expect them to behave. I don’t mean a stern warning of punishment just before entering the store, I mean really instructing them how to behave. When you’re at home with no time crunch or agenda, take your child(ren) aside and explain something you plan to do in the next few days–go the store or the mall, visit Grandma’s house, go to church, whatever–and the reason for the excursion.
Then explain how “we” behave in this situation. “We keep our hands to ourselves at the store” or “We sit quietly in church” or “We give Grandma a big hug and ask permission to play outdoors” or whatever it might be. Add the negatives as well: “We don’t whine or beg for toys or treats at the store” or “We don’t go into any room where the door is closed at Grandma’s house” or “We don’t run in the hallway at church.”
Next, you act it out for them. Show them what the behavior you want looks like, and show them what the behavior you don’t want looks like. Then, tell your child(ren) to join you in acting it out–this is nothing more than practicing! Practice two or three times that day, then a few times the next day, and the next. When you’re ready to actually embark on your adventure, tell them where you’re going, and what you’ll be doing, and ask, “What do we do at Grandma’s house?” “What do we not do at Grandma’s house?” Ask your child(ren) to act it out one more time, then, just before you get out of the car turn and say, “Remember how we behave at Grandma’s house!” or something similar.
When you go home, look your child(ren) in the eye, and tell them how well they did and how pleased you are! This won’t guarantee you will never have an issue with your child in the situations you’ve practiced, but it really, really helps.
See, nobody wants to go into a situation unprepared. When you go someplace without preparing your kids, you can’t expect them to behave a certain way and then get angry and embarrassed when they don’t! However, if you get out in front–if you lead your child–he learns how to behave! It gives him confidence and a sense of being more grown-up. (It also brings compliments to you and your kids, which is a nice reward for all your hard work and practice!)
Give your child the gift of confidence, and yourself the gift of enjoyable outings (and compliments)! Lead from the front!