After hearing fairly frequently how well behaved our kids are, a few of my mommy buddies and I have had several discussions about this. Why are our kids perceived as "well behaved"? How are they different? How is what we do different? And how do our lifestyles impact our kids behavior? We came up with a few ideas.
To start with, we have great kids! Yeah. I'm biased, but they really are terrific little people. We respect their "peoplehood". Something I find different about some of the families I tend to hang out with is that the interactions parents are children have are truly respectful. We really talk with our kids and are curious about what they have to say. There is very little speaking down to a child or baby talking. Conversations are an even give and take. We give choices, we give information about what will happen in advance, we help the kids be prepared for situations and interactions. We listen. We nod. We look interested instead of looking at something else while we mindlessly say "um hm". We give them our time as well as time to do things themselves. I think this is really important. People have a constant chatter in their heads about the schedule for the day, and rather than sharing their thoughts, they just expect that when they say "go" the kids will follow. I think the routines of the day and the time allotted to them is imperative to having a calm child. Just sharing that "before we get in the car in 10 minutes, I'd like you to have your jacket and shoes on" can really make a difference. Allowing enough time so a toddler can do as much of the preparation for an activity helps them be more invested in the activity itself. We do so much directing and scheduling of kids these days that they really have very little opportunity to do things for themselves. I've heard so many times how so-and-so cant put on their own shoes or jacket or whatever, and it turns out they never get the chance because they are flying out the door and mom always does it for them because it is faster.
One really basic difference is food. One mom was saying yesterday that she was again complemented about the group of toddlers at her home for a party last weekend. She observed that there was no soda, cake, or candy. Hmmm. Just knowing how my own kids behavior changes with sugar and artificial colorings - heck, how I feel when I eat garbage - makes me sure this is key. The amount of "stuff" in kids food is really nauseating. Come to think of it, the fact that the culture believes there is "kid food" is just as bad. Check out any kids menu - grilled cheese, mac and cheese, hot dog, hamburger, pizza, chicken nuggets...we are being led like zombies to believe that they won't eat regular food. Peanut was dancing around this morning as she helped me with the garden talking about how she was going to eat all the vegetables we grow. I know the fact that we focus on organic, fresh, whole food helps her feel good and have the energy to play as well as the self regulation to deal with events that might shake up her routine.
Another huge difference is play. A mom I know said she had told another mom that they didn't sign up for any tot classes this session and they were really enjoying their time to play. The other mom looked at her like she had three heads. Even two year olds have packed schedules with classes, playdates and lessons. I always try to leave at least one day (and I prefer two) to just hang out. No schedule, no outings, just play. At our regular playgroup last week, the kids were doing what they usually do - running around and playing in the yard. We let them direct their own play and intervene if they are unable to work something out themselves or when it could get dangerous. The kids were playing in the leaves in the garden and found some plastic pots. One was the perfect size and shape to be a hat for the leader of a marching band. So we've got a dirty pot on one child's head (which got passed around so others could take a turn - on their own mind you) and leaves all over the back of another (mine) who had rolled around on the ground, and they are marching around the yard quite regally. I could have insisted that the pot go back in the garden or that Peanut dust herself off or no longer roll on the ground, but I didn't. Neither did the other moms. Kids get dirty and explore and they will get a bath later. I could have tried to explain that the pot was for plants, and thus thwart their creativity. Some may see they way we are parenting as too permissive, but I think it allows kids to be curious, to explore, learn and use their energy. Being relaxed about play and not insisting that play goes on in a particular way ensures that our kids know that when we do insist on something, we mean it.
I'm sure there are all kinds of other little (and big) things that make a big difference in how kids act. I know our kids are certainly not on their "best behavior" all the time - but really, who is? I'm not. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they've got every minute of every day. You really can't ask for more.