The other day on my lunch break, I was eating by myself in a restaurant when I noticed a young mother who brought her two children with her, alone, to the restaurant. The little girl looked like she was about four years old. The little boy was about two or three. It was a pizza buffet and the mother had already managed to get her children their food. However, in the process of putting down her purse and picking up the two year old to put him in his chair, the four year started running around the restaurant. She had a big grin on her face as her mother began to chase her. Situating herself with several tables between her and her mother, she was amused while her mother obviously was not. In frustration the mother ignored her and walked back to her son, who was gleefully taking all this in. After losing her mother’s attention, the little girl began to sheepishly make her way back toward the table. The mother noticed her daughter approaching the table and went to her to have a few “words.” Meanwhile, the little boy saw his chance for escape. With a big smile, he bolted up on the platform where I was sitting. The mother ran after her two year old. Fortunately, he wasn’t as fast as his big sister, so he was arrested and brought back to his seat. As I left the restaurant, the mother, exasperated, was standing guard over her two little darlings, still with no pizza on her own plate.
I don’t write this to pass judgment on the mother. Indeed, I don’t even know who she was. I also can’t say that my children have always been on their best behavior at all times. What I do know, though, is that I could take all six of my children to a restaurant, without my wife, and they would stay in their chairs if I tell them to. The 1 year old is the only one who would need to be physically restrained to make this happen…and we’re working on her. :-) Now, my children are 14, 11, 10, 5, 3, 1, with #7 due in November. My older children are a very big help with the younger children. So, maybe it would be a better point made if I stated that I could take my three youngest children out for a meal and not have them running all over the restaurant.
In any case, there are a few fundamentals that we ingrain in the heads of our toddlers.
- Obedience is mandatory.
- Reply with “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” when given a command.
- Hold my finger as we are walking.
Children are to obey their parents at all times. A parent should always have the best interest of their child in mind when exercising this authority. In any case, if they are abusing this responsibility, they will answer to God for it. If I tell my child to stay put, or to “come,” it very well could be for his own safety. I refuse to put my children on one of those “kid leashes” that you see sometimes in the mall or at the zoo. It is not funny for children to disobey. In the case of the above mentioned mother, somehow her children had gotten the idea that it was funny to run away from mom. If I were this mom, I’d make this “not funny” quicker than my children could get out the first laugh.
Our children aren’t always consistent in the use of “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am.” But when they are not, we simply repeat the question or command. I’ve actually found that the 3 and 5 year old are much more consistent than our older children. I truly believe that it is because we have always expected it of the younger ones, but the older ones lived on this Earth for several years before this became a “rule.” Habits formed early last a lifetime. Habits formed later are a little bit harder to cement. The use of “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am” provide a constant reminder to the child that the parent is their authority. It teaches them a regard for other authority as well, especially when they observe their parent speaking in the same respectful way to an adult who is older than the parent or to an authority figure, such as a police officer.
Lastly, there’s nothing as frustrating to me as trying to hold a toddler’s hand while he squirms and tries to pull away from me. So, I have decided that I rarely hold a child’s hand. Unless there is imminent danger, like we are crossing a busy street or something, I have the child hold my finger. In this way, we return to the first point of unquestioned obedience. When my son, Paton, who is three, holds my finger, I know that he is doing it of his own will after being instructed to by me. Secondly, I think it’s easier for his little hand to grasp my finger than to fit around my bigger hand. This also shows a submission to my authority and is an acknowledgement that he needs his daddy to protect him.
By setting a few expectations and enforcing the rules, we can ensure a safe and pleasant environment for our children whether we are in public or in the privacy of our own homes.