Devil at home, darling in public

“Why does my child behave well for others, but not for me?”

This is a common question many parents ask. It’s frustrating!

I remember my primary school-aged children having very poor table manners at home, yet after sleep-overs and visits with friends we were always complimented for having children with beautiful manners.

“They showed my kids a thing or two about manners,” was the type of comment we received.

When one daughter was thirteen, she barely had a civil word for anyone who lived under the same roof as her. Yet following a weekend staying at a friend’s house, the supervising parents remarked how communicative she was with them.

“What do you do get such a lovely teenager?” our friend asked. “Send her to you!” was my reply!

So why do kids behave well for others and save their worst behaviour for their parents? It’s simple really…..because you love them.

It’s hard to be good all the time. When we are fully accepted by others we tend to show them our true selves warts n’ all.

The same theory applies with all our relationships, including dating. When you first started dating, you more than likely put huge energy into making the best possible impression. In the early days of dating you more than likely dressed to impress, were always ready on time and wore a perpetual smile.

When the relationship became more stable, you probably loosened up. You didn’t always dress to impress; you may have turned up late a few times and you were less are fussed about presenting your best possible face all the time. In short, familiarity breeds contentedness.

The same happens with kids. They become so relaxed with their parents that they will show their worst side to them.

They’ll be very polite to their teacher, barely speaking out of turn in class yet they can be downright rude and overbearing at home.

They’ll be friendly to peers at school but painful for siblings at home. Such is the way of family-life.

It’s important that kids know how to behave

We’d all love our kids to behave appropriately all the time, but the reality is they won’t.

Most kids have L plates when it comes to learning how to fit in and behave around others. They make mistakes, yet they are always on a path to improvement…or should be.

It’s important that they know how to behave. That means parents teach their kids good manners; they teach them right from wrong; and also you teach them how to behave well in a variety of social situations so that when they are outside the house and around others, they know how to behave in public.

Sometimes kids are worse in public than at home

This happens with toddlers who are really on a huge learning curve. It’s easier to teach them in the confined, organised environment at home. When they are in public spaces such as supermarkets they are so much harder to control!

Teaching kids to behave

Here are four smart strategies you can use to teach kids of all ages to behave well – both outside and inside the family home:

  • Modelling
  • Mentoring
  • Messaging
  • Manoeuvring

1. Modelling: Kids are born mimics. The minute you become a parent you become a walking, talking social studies lesson (as in how to be social, generous and pleasant to others). They need to see adults and significant others such as parents behave well, behave generously and use appropriate manners (cos’ they will speak like you in public). Model the behaviours you want in your kids… as much as is humanly possible.

2. Mentoring: Good behaviour comes easily to some, but many kids need to be taught the nuances of behaving well and socialising. Boys, in particular, benefit from a parent who is willing to invest time and energy into helping them behave well. Toddler and teens both benefit from explicit teaching and coaching in what to do and say in the company of others. They benefit from hearing messages such as “Say thank you”, “Look your teacher in the eye when you speak” , “Address her parents by name”

3. Messaging: Astute parents give kids social scripts that they can use in a variety of situations. This social scripting starts when we tell a toddler to say hello to a relative and continues to providing more complex scripts to use in a variety of situations such as in a restaurant, at a friend’s house, at school, even online. It also helps if kids rehearse their lines before they use them in social situations. Behaviour rehearsal is particularly important for boys who are usually tactile, practical learners.

4. Manoeuvring: A great way to prepare kids to excel is through manoeuvring social situations much in the same way assporting codes create junior versions of their games, so kids can learn the basics without being overwhelmed by adult rules. Look for opportunities for kids to socialise at home in ways that mimic situations that they’ll encounter in public. For instance, once a week set up your mealtimes like a restaurant so kids learn how to behave in a restaurant situation.