On a recent journey to Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to reflect on good parenting. Due to a brief layover, we had to switch planes mid-way and on each leg of the journey, we found ourselves sitting in front of children (yes, the same people we left our classrooms to get a break from).
I’m not (yet) a parent. However, I believe the principles that I’ve laid out previously about classroom management apply to parenting as well. Specifically, when you can help it, never expose children to a new situation without first letting them know what to expect from that situation and what appropriate behavior is in that situation. Naturally, life presents unexpected situations all the time. However, taking your students to the library, the computer lab, or a performance and taking your sons and daughters on airplanes are not unexpected events.
We teach children about individual upcoming events ahead of time for two reasons:
- Once we’re in a situation, it’s too late to teach the special rules (you can’t stop a performance, or halt takeoff and landing to discipline).
- Most importantly, misbehavior results from children being anxious. When we explain to them what to expect they are less anxious and less likely to act up.
In the classroom, if you’re taking your students to the library, you first discuss what’s going to happen in the library and the special rules there (use a marker to find a book, whisper when you talk, etc.). I do not take my students to the library until I’m confident that they know how to behave there.
Rafe Esquith talks about having his students sit through the entire sound recording of a symphony in his classroom before taking the students to see the real symphony. By listening to a CD beforehand, he taught them when to clap, how to listen, and what to listen for so they were not bored when they got there.
At home, if you know you’re going on an airplane, into a toy store, or to the post office, you need to explain the special behaviors expected in each of those places.
How This Plays Out “In the Wild”
On the first leg of our journey, as the plane was taking off, the child screamed at the top of his lungs and yelled out, “I’m scared.” His mom laughed. Perhaps she didn’t care that her child was screaming—but that’s for another blog post. He spent the flight kicking my wife’s seat. When we landed, his mom asked him to be responsible for his own jacket and told him he had to walk. He said no, started crying, and his grandmother ended up carrying him.
During the break, I discussed with my wife how we’re going to parent differently and then on the second leg of our journey, another family provided a perfect example.
On the final flight, another child sat down behind us with his mom. Before the flight took off, she discussed with him the popping he’d feel soon in his ears when the flight took off. She explained that he would need to keep his seatbelt on. She reviewed with him what they were going to be seeing in Costa Rica. That child was a dream to sit in front of. Nothing was a surprise to him and he knew how to behave.
When the flight landed, another passenger asked this dream child what he was looking forward to seeing. “A volcano,” he said, “I want to see the lava coming out it of it.” As a bonus, talking to your child develops language and verbal ability. I didn’t hear the annoying kid say anything other than screams and grunts on the first flight. It seems obvious, but talk to your child if you want them the learn to talk.
I’m worried. I’m worried about what I see as a complete breakdown of expected behavior in public. Mild-mannered me has been getting in fights with people at movies and plays about them texting during the show. I’m not sure how we address a growing self-centeredness that puts one’s own needs ahead of anyone else. However, I believe it’s those parents who are not setting behavioral expectations who are contributing to this general breakdown. If you really don’t care about others, then I’m not sure I can help you. However, if you want a better world, I think I’m laying out for you one way we can get there.