Editor’s note: I (Matt) recently read an article on The Gospel Coalition website entitled, When My Children Act Out in Public. Not having time to think deep and respond but wanting to, I forwarded the post to my wife and asked her to respond. Below is her response.
I see great insight in this article. Reacting out of embarrassment shows what’s in our hearts. But let’s take a step back. The article seems to assume that there’s nothing parents can do to avoid children acting out in public. Should we not be training our children at home so they don’t act out in public? As a general rule (please note the qualifier), if a child knows how to obey at home, learns proper manners and social mores at home, crazy, “embarrassing” behavior will not occur.
When My Children Act Out
The other week I was shopping with my three children (2 – 5 years) in a crowded super market. I decided to let my son (2 and so full of energy) walk next to the cart instead of being strapped into the bench seat like he was a driver in NASCAR. He did well, usually staying next to me or just in front of the cart. Suddenly, he took off running to the end of the aisle. I called him and he just looked at me and smiled. I sent my 5 year old to take his hand and bring him back. Bad idea. Now he thought it was a game and took off running down the next aisle over. Did I mention it was crowded in the store?
Embarrassed? Yes. Reacted poorly? Actually, no! I calmly picked him up, (once I caught him) buckled him in the seat, administered consequences (stern “You do not run away from Mommy” and no free cookie at the bakery), and went off to finish my shopping in peace.
Children Act Out – Should Not Be!
You see, I recognize his behavior, while of his own sinful will, was really my fault. I haven’t been training him. In that instant I realized that I hadn’t done my job as a mom in teaching my son to come as soon as he is called. Had I done that he would have come the first time and I wouldn’t have needed to send my daughter after him (entirely bad idea).
To me its sad when people think it’s “normal” when children act out in public. I don’t. Not much can ruin a fun evening more quickly than seeing someone’s child throw themselves into a world-class fit over not getting their way. Then when I see the parents give in just to make the kid stop I want to say, “Hey, you realize you’re teaching him to misbehave to get his way, right?” Children act out in public because parents teach them it’s okay.
Manners are a different matter. If your child can’t handle the manners and social mores of an establishment, don’t take them until they learn. If they can’t whisper, no movie theater. If they can’t chew with their mouth closed, no fancy restaurants. If they can’t sit still for more than 3 or 4 minutes at a time don’t go to story time (some kids like to listen to the story). Perhaps that will cramp your style as an adult for a while. That’s part of parenting. Don’t set your kid up to fail. It’s good motivation for you to help them learn manners quickly.
I appreciated the insight of the post and the challenge to watch my motivations. When my children act out in public (and they are sinners, so I know they could and sometimes will) my reactions (inside and out) must be God-honoring. However, I believe we need to work towards that embarrassing behavior never taking place to begin with. That way we are training kids to be respectful of others and obedient to elders.