Works for Me: Kids and behavior expectations

We’ve all been there. You’re out someplace with the kids, and they start to act up. Sometimes they know darned well that they’re misbehaving. Other times they’re flirting with boundaries that you’ve never actually stated. Sure, it seems logical that the kids should not be climbing through the clothes racks at the clothing store. But have you ever told the kids not to?

I’ve found that the very best way to avoid frustration with kids out in public is to talk with kids specifically about behavior before you even get out of the car. This has been especially helpful dealing with various new situations and our newly arrived older daughters. But it is also helpful for kids who’ve been in the family since infancy.

A recent example is our upcoming trip to family camp. We’ve already talked about being respectful to camp counselors (who are also older siblings), telling counselors when you go anywhere, paying attention and participating during chapel, getting to breakfast on time, and the mandatory once/day ‘come-find-mom-and-hug-her’ rule. (Although it is family camp, it is amazing how much time we’re all off doing our own thing!)

Now, there are bound to be issues that I haven’t discussed with the kids. But I’ve found that a little preplanning and a bit of conversation beforehand is a tremendous help when it comes to kids and their behavior. Works for me!


  1. So true! Thanks for the reminder!
    Visiting you for the first time…….have to ask if some of your 10 joined your family thru adoption? I am an adoptive mom of 2 and always enjoy finding other moms/families blessed by adoption!

  2. At first, with six kids in the store, we looked like a circus. Not that the kids were especially loud or bad, just that there were six of them–and me.

    Conscious of the fact that we are a representation of a large family and many people make assumptions based on what they see out in public, I analyzed what might help the situation and came up with my before-we-go-in-the-store mantra: “Be quiet, stay with Mama, don’t touch things unless you ask first.” In the store, if one gets out of line I can quietly (rather than raising my voice) reprimand the child and remind him or her of the rules. So far the rules have pretty much covered everything.

    Now, in addition to the “Are they ALL yours?” question, I almost always get the follow up statement, “They are so well behaved!” And that is what I want to leave as my “Big family impression”.

    So, I agree, having clear expectations is HUGE! It works for me, too.

  3. Oops that Stephen Eimers Should have been me, Melissa, instead.

  4. Nevermind, I think my comment got lost on it’s way to you anyway. Oh well!

  5. Excellent advice. Just the other day, while we were in public, I was saying to myself, “Rats! I forgot to talk to him about the ‘make eye contact when an adult is talking to you’ guideline.” 🙂 A little advance preparation goes a long way!

  6. Oh yes- something I continue to work on with my boys. If they don’t understand what we expect out of them, they don’t know any different and are just being kids. Such an important parenting/relational tip!!!


  7. Good advice, Mary! I know that I sometimes expect my daughter to just somehow know what would be “common sense” behavior when we go somewhere, even though I may never have told her the expectations and I forget how often 3 year olds need to be reminded about everything!

    This is a good reminder for me, as we head off to the zoo for the day with friends. Think we’ll have a little chat in the car beforehand. See, this is why I love blogs of moms more experienced than me!

  8. I should have used your advice today when I took my kids to the store. It would have made the trip a lot easier. The thing that frustrates me is they know they shouldn’t behave the way they did, but a reminder right before going in would have helped.

  9. Oh, you are so right! This works for us too! 🙂

  10. I need to start doing this more with both of our boys–at 4 1/2 and 19 months, they are more than a little challenging at times! This might help considerably, especially with the 4 1/2 year old.

  11. Yep – you are right about that. Unfortunately, there are all of the unexpected things that we don’t know to tell our older newly adopted kids to do – that pop up and surprise us. Like, “Don’t bend down to sniff your mother’s sandals in the airport security line!” Do you have those moments too? It is such a conumdrum how my child can act years older than their chronological age and then many years younger in the next moment. Ahh – the joys of older child adoption!

  12. Very good advice. Great post. Thanks!

  13. Works for me too.
    Another thing that works is to practice and role play ahead of time.
    For example we practiced with an old pizza box before the birthday party how we open a present someone has just given us. We went over good manners, what we say, and how we act. We even went over how to be polite and nice about receiving a present we did not like.

  14. What I’ve found that works for us is that child must repeat the preview of what’s going to happen and what is expected. I can say but until child says it, he sometimes doesn’t really have it. If it comes out of his mouth I don’t have a problem holding him responsible for the disobedience. This is a little tougher with 10 though.

  15. This is such sound advice. And it is a real kindness to your children as well. We all do better with preparation and rehearsal.

    I think some folks’ biggest frustrations in childrearing could easily be headed off by remembering that there is no way for children to read your mind—and also, that up until a certain age, they are not very good at extrapolation. IOW, just because they know they are supposed to not ask someone why they are so fat, they should also not ask someone why they cut their hair too short, or why they have a whisker on their chin. (Just thinking of some real-life examples, from the last week in fact.)

  16. Loved your idea, #12! I can even imagine putting something IN the giftbox, too—like socks from Grandma!

  17. I do believe you are correct.. I have found that when I explain to my 3 1/2 year old (believe it or not lol) that we are going into Target and this is what we are going to do..ect… and he will behave and if he has to go potty he will tell Daddy or I.. I do believe kids need structure..and when they “know” a head of time I do believe it sets them up for a better ‘experience’ all around… but on the flip side my son has had a few meltdowns in the aisles hahah 🙂

  18. So true! Just before every entrance into the grocery/dept. store we remind each other of the “No Crying” rule. It works very well though we still have occassional mishaps.

  19. I couldn’t agree more. I listened to this great program on Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family. A woman who wrote the book, “One Tough Mother” was talking just about that.
    It’s so true. We forget that sometimes we have to teach them what we figure they already know…plus being one step ahead, which can require daily power walking.
    Thanks for sharing.

  20. I totally agree with you. We always talk about how we’re going to act before we enter the place we’re going. It helps us to be able to always go back to what we talked about. The kids know what the consequences will be before they ever commit the crime :o)

  21. I totally agree with this. But sometimes, as our kids get older, we’ve even said, “You are old enough to have figured out that x behaviour is not appropriate.” There comes a point when we can transition to helping them/expecting them to figure it out, even beyond what we’ve been able to imagine ahead of time 😉