My tips for raising (mostly) well behaved children

We are frequently praised for having well behaved children and our standard response is "Thank you, we are very lucky." But a neighbour commented once that it's not luck really, it's good parenting which goes a long way towards the way your children behave, especially out in public.

children camping

 Blimey that sounds smug! Obviously my 7 children are not perfect and we are far from perfect parents! But we went away for a week without them recently confident that they would behave nicely for the people who had kindly volunteered to look after them while we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary.

Let me add, although our children are generally polite and well behaved they are not cowed little robots who are scared of us and have suppressed natural childhood exuberance. They just know when and where it's appropriate to act in certain ways because from the day they were born we taught them.

So what are my top tips for raising children who don't cause raised eyebrows when you are out and about or create too much tension at home?

Well start young is my primary tip. There's a difference between toddler curiosity and bad behaviour and although we were seen as strict when we refused to let our tiny children open drawers and explore at someone's house, or bounce on the furniture or run around restaurants we reaped the benefits as even from a young age we felt confident taking them to homes with fragile ornaments and out to eat.

eating out with children

Be clear on what the rules are and don't change them. If you want them to accept sitting calmly in a stroller or car seat make it clear that is where they sit when you want them to. I hear all too often "they won't stay in." but believe me they will if you enforce it from the start. Any hands wandering towards the fastenings was met with a frown and a firm "no" and a distraction with a toy or drink if necessary.

That's actually our biggest secret - which isn't a secret at all. I joke that parenting is just glorified dog training which sounds horrendous but what I mean is that exaggerated facial expressions, body language and distinct tones of voice will let even the youngest non-verbal child understand your feeling about their behaviour.

Some people like to explain why a child shouldn't do something. "Hold my hand or you will be squished by a car" for example. Children have no concept of danger generally so I think that just "Hold my hand" is enough.

You can explain as they get older about road safety but if they just come to expect that when you need to cross a road they wait and hold your hand/buggy strap or whatever then you avoid the unexpected dashing in front of car scenarios generally! Habit is a strong force and one which is relatively easy to install.

child in woods

Work as a team. If you co-parent it's ideal if the other person is on board with your expectations and vice versa. If you can extend that expectation to grandparents/carers/relatives then well done. It's not always easy! You can however remind the child that expectations at home are the same even if grandma lets them leave the table before everyone has finished or offers chocolate half an hour before lunch.

Don't contradict any other adult in a parenting role about expectations in front of the children. They are wiley little buggers and will soon realise they can divide and conquer. If mum said no to crisps, even if you think it's unreasonable, back her up.

Listen to advice but don't panic if it doesn't work on your child. If you are the sort of person who buys parenting books or reads blogs about parenting (like this one!) then great. Knowledge is power and it constantly amazes me that there are two tests for driving but they let you take a baby home without any form of training at all!

But there's no use expecting a book advising a strict routine to work if you are the sort of family who eats when you are hungry not at 5pm on the dot. And advice from one person about potty training/weaning may not work for your child who might have a completely different personality.

To be honest I had to re-learn parenting every time I had another child as they are all so different. Take potty training for instance. One of my children was ready and dry day and night at 18 months, the other was almost 5 before he would even go near a potty.

Now punishment and reward is a tricky one and you really have to discuss with any co-parenting adult how you plan to handle these early on. I'm not getting into specifics as to how we disciplined ours but whatever you decide to do, be consistent.

It's no use threatening that you will leave the child behind, leave the restaurant mid-meal, put them out of the car on the M25 or cancel their birthday party (I've heard all of these!) if you don't intend to follow through so make any threats realistic. Don't ban TV/screen time for a week if you suspect that after two days you will be desperate for some peace and quiet supplied by the electronic babysitter.

children using tablet computer

As for promises - my mum's top parenting tip was that she never promised anything she wasn't certain would happen - so don't promise the zoo in a week's time unless you already have the money put by, or a special toy when they might sell out before Christmas.

So there you have it - a quick guide to raising well behaved children. There's much more I could add about our parenting journey but as I said, you have to make your own pathway given your personal circumstances.

One final word, the only useful bit of advice I got from my ante-natal classes 23 years ago.

Remember - YOU are in charge!

children playing

Disclaimer: collaborative post