How To Have Successful Outings With Children

I'll never forget the day a good friend said to me, "we hardly ever leave the house with the kids."  My eyes must have been as big as softballs...she must've noticed and began to explain how the 2 children were "difficult to control" out in public.

Have you ever felt that leaving the house with your children in tow to do some shopping or go out to eat was just more trouble than it was worth?  Have you ever felt like the whole world was staring at you when your child began to misbehave in public? I will never forget...

As a mom of 4, I have had those times where I felt "out of control" of the situation with my children in public and felt like I was being judged as a "mom" by everyone around.  In fact, I felt so guilty sometimes from my children acting out that I asked for the advice of a pastor at church.  I felt that I was somehow failing my kids because I wasn't always in control of them and they dared to defy me in public.

Now, before I go any further, I must say that my kids are generally well-behaved. At this point in my life, I had been feeling the pressure of today's society to be a "perfect" mom. To be the mom that can do anything, go anywhere and be anything she wants to at the drop of a hat. Ugh. Society. Full of lies and unobtainable expectations.  I was a good mom and I knew it. But somehow, I felt inferior. Maybe you have had a similar experience?

Anyhow, what I finally came to find was that no matter how "good" of a parent I was, there were still going to be those days where the kids would have melt-downs, cheerios were going to be thrown at passers-by and I would have to scoop one child up into the grocery cart with the other while I chased another around the store as the ice cream melted and the milk got warm. That's just life and I wish I could say it was always easy, but NOPE!

With that being said, there ARE some things you should do before your outing that will give you a better "handle" on behaviors and allow your anxiety to be somewhat relieved when it comes to outings with your children.

1. Prepare your children - Even I tend to become anxious when having to suddenly rush off unexpectedly - can you imagine how a child - who craves structure naturally - feels every time they are told to put their toys away and to get their coats on? The behaviors can start before you leave the house. So, try to prepare the child a few hours earlier if possible and explain to them what they can expect to do on the outing.

2. Consider timing - Whenever possible, try to plan your outings with your child's nap and eating times taken into consideration.  If you plan on grocery shopping at noon with your two children who usually nap at 12:30, chances are you are setting them up for failure right there.  It is ideal to have full tummies and rested bodies when heading out the door.  If that's not possible, at least have some snacks handy and plan to keep your trip as short as possible.

*On a side note, I have always been in the habit of taking my kids wherever they need to go at whatever time we have to go.  This includes during nap and feeding times.  Obviously, we have melt-downs. But doing this from their birth may have helped them adapt better to situations on-the-go than always planning every outing around nap time.  I think people fall into the trap of planning their lives around naps and eating times, especially first-time parents.  This "training" worked for me, but we know all kids are different. It is just a suggestion and may not work for all kiddos. *

3. Take necessities - I'll never forget the time I took my newborn daughter to Walmart for a prescription and forgot the water to mix her formula with for her bottle.  I quickly remembered when she started screaming at the top of her lungs while we walked around the store waiting for the script to be filled. I had to sprint with her to the opposite side of the store to get a case of water, then I had to buy the water and mix the formula before she stopped crying and screaming!  I was stared at as if I was running around naked and dancing like a monkey! I might as well have been!  Well, needless to say, I never forgot to restock the diaper bag least until 7 years later with my newborn at Disney World. Ugh. So, whatever your child needs, double-check that you have it!

4. Plan for discipline - I feel like sometimes the poor parents that are in the "Oh my gosh, my kid is screaming and I don't know what to do" phase at the store...yeah, we've all seen them...sometimes they seem like they just don't have a plan for discipline.  I see mom's go from warning after warning to screaming, spanking and eventually leaving the store after the behavior has carried on for 1/2 an hour or so. I feel so badly for those moms.  They NEED to be at the store, obviously, but they just can't get the kids to behave. And, yes, there WILL be times that you can do NOTHING to calm them down. OK.  But, a plan for discipline is SO critical for a child whether or not you are at home or on an outing.  Here is my plan:

   a.) They get a warning.
   b.) They get one more warning & told the next consequence.
   c.) They get to sit in the corner, one minute for each year of age.
   d.) We leave the store. Or, they lose a favorite activity/toy.

You can make your own plan, but the key is CARRY-OVER!  Follow the plan at home, follow it at the zoo, the store, your friend's home, the library...wherever you are. Children will not know what is expected unless it is reinforced over and over again.

I'll remember putting my daughter in the corner for the first time at Target when she had just turned 2.  I got so many "you are a horrible mom" looks from this one older woman.  But I would have also gotten that same look if the behavior continued any further.  The behavior eventually stopped and my daughter was SO shocked that I disciplined her like that in public. Your child will eventually catch on!

5. Teach behavior - I hate to say it, but sometimes children have just not been taught how to behave in certain places.  How many of us have seen kids knocking products off shelves or taking toy balls out of their bins and tossing them at people in the store.  Then you see the parent(s) just laughing at them and letting them carry on?  I TRY not to judge, but boy is it difficult!  Bottom line, teach your children how to be respectful of other people and their property.  That's not to say that all behavior is lack of proper parenting, but it is how WE as parents react that determines how long and often the behavior appears.

To Sum It Up:

I've basically found that children will behave how you EXPECT them to behave.  If you hop in the car expecting to have a horrible experience, you probably will.  Your children will feed off your negative energy.  However, if you think to yourself, "I am going to have fun with my kids today and they may melt down...but I am prepared," then chances are, the "bumps in the road" won't seem like mountains and won't frazzle you as much...especially if you have prepared!

So, the next time you want to do something with the kiddos in public, I challenge you to take these steps and see if it helps! Remember to put on your "calm" face, or things will fall apart quickly!

Do you have any tips for parenting or taking kids on outings? I'd love to hear them!  And here are some Kid Crafts and Kid-Friendly Recipes for you to enjoy as well!

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