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Top 10 Tips when Going Public with Kids

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Beastly public behavior can start when your child is just under a year or age and continue, well, for what seems like an eternity! Taking your youngsters with you on public outings is as much feared as it is usually necessary. Trips to stores, businesses, restaurants, and other public places can bring out unbecoming behavior in your kids, especially in environments laden with toys, candy, and other child enticements. Here are ways to tame that beast-like kid behavior.

1. Plan Ahead

Kids thrive on routine and information, and parents who have successfully conquered public outings with their kids swear it has to do with proper planning before anyone ventures into a store. One mom makes a simple list and has her children carry it (make a list for each kid, if it helps) to be her "helpers." Tell kids why you're going into a store and what you will and won't be buying. Then, stick to it. Keep visits brief and to-the-point. This is not the best time to simply browse.

2. Have a Mission

Involve kids with helping with the "mission at hand" (i.e. buying milk, bread and lunch meat at the grocery store) and set expectations in advance. Consider letting each kid choose one item, such as the breakfast cereal, or help with getting the items out of the cart if they successfully stay in the seat while shopping. Have a fun activity planned after the "mission is accomplished" such as going to the park or watching a movie together.

3. Keep it Positive

Child experts urge parents to develop rewards for great behavior as an incentive, and so that parents can gently remind kids of what lies ahead if their actions earn it. Whether it is picking one treat at the check-out counter, riding bikes when you get home, or staying up an extra 15 minutes late to watch a beloved show, positive rewards can foster angelic-like behavior and help to minimize melt-downs by kids (and their parents) alike.

4. Keep Expectations Realistic

Public outings often are unsuccessful because parents have unrealistic expectations as to how long kids can remain quiet and inactive. After all, they are just kids! It is reasonable to expect kids to behave during a short restaurant outing; but parents shouldn't expect youngsters to remain "seen and not heard" throughout a fancy, multi-course meal at which a restaurant prides itself on graciousness, custom cooking, and dining comfort. Pick places accordingly.

5. Bring Quiet Entertainment

While your kids are adorable, realize that not everyone may appreciate their gestures and squeals as much as you. Do not allow them to play peek-a-boo over the back of a booth to a childless group eating out. They may be enjoying a night without their own kids and don't want yours to entertain (or distract). Bring quiet entertainment for kids that they'll truly love, such as colors, Hot Wheels, mini DVD player, small dolls, or other "noiseless" entertainment. Everyone will thank you!

6. Have a Plan B

Kids are kids, and temperaments, illness, and less-than-angelic behaviors can sometimes create a need to go to Plan B. Soiled clothing, a sleeping child, or inclement weather can put a damper on big plans, and every experienced parent knows that trying to force something to happen usually backfires. Plan B may be restaurant delivery rather than eating out, waiting a day to go to the grocery store, or delaying an outing until the baby awakens from a nap. If possible, go with the flow.

7. Visit Kid-Friendly Stores When Kids Are In Tow

Not all stores or restaurants are created the same, and some places are more kid-friendly than others. Businesses cater to their clientele, and try to offer an environment that is profitable and satisfying to customers at the same time. And, no, not all businesses need to accommodate side-by-side strollers and grabby hands. Cramped stores overloaded with breakables and stacked merchandise might best be frequented without kids!

8. Set Proper Behavior Expectations

Kids learn from their parents; it's up to us to set expectations as to appropriate behavior. If you expect your kids to sit quietly through a meal, remain in the basket while shopping, or hold your hand as you enter a store, then say so immediately before the public outing begins. Make sure all understand and agree to the behavior. Discuss that this is to be a "no whine" experience, and any concerns can be addressed back at home. Use the restroom before you leave to lessen time in a store.

9. Determine Consequence Ahead of Time

So, what do you do when your kid does whine or throws a temper tantrum in spite of your best intentions? Parents should have a calm plan in place and stick to the consequence. Giving in only feeds the beast for the next time. If possible, try and avoid melt-downs by letting kids be involved and providing them with a "yes" to something, and re-direct the emotions there. Parents can say: "Ali, you're starting to whine and I'd hate to not let you not get your popcorn, so let's do ____ now!"

10. Remember Health and Safety for All

A top complaint of restaurant staff is kids being allowed to roam, twirl, and otherwise irritate other diners, while parents sit nearby, seemingly oblivious. Don't let your kids crawl around an empty seating area; that means the table will need to be re-cleaned before new guests. Don't let them play with the salt and pepper, open sugar packets, crawl under tables (think of the unsanitary conditions), or stand and play underfoot of the wait staff and other diners. In other words, set controls!
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