As a new mom, I find myself observing other parents with children even more than usual. In the past, I seemed to focus on the kids. However, lately, I am watching parents and how they interact with and respond to their little ones. So, as I venture out with my son, I am acutely aware of the need to make the most of the time out in the world.
Since there are a wide range of issues that can stem from being out in public with children, I think it best to break this down into age ranges. For those of you with more than one child, falling into different categories, I would encourage you to choose what will work best from each age range and merge those together. Remember, my tips will not work for every parent or every child, but they may give you some insight or perspective to establish your own successful strategies.
Long before they can walk – well, basically from the moment they are born – babies are observing the world around them and learning from it. Their daily development compared to that of adults is mind-boggling. Every sound, sight, experience or location helps them connect vital synapses and neurons in their brains. As they see and do more, they learn and understand more.
So, why is it that so many babies are put in strollers and covered up with canopies, preventing the discovery of anything other than the patterns of their clothes? I fully understand the need for two arms in certain circumstances. But I also know that a few decades ago, children were rarely strapped into anything. They were carried or held almost exclusively, and given a first-rate view of life as it unfolded before their eyes. In the recent marketing surge of swings, bouncy seats, and fancy strollers, coupled with the freedom that they provide for busy parents, babies are held in plastic more than they are in arms. But what to do instead?
There are many ergonomic baby carriers on the market in almost all price ranges (I own and recommend Baby Bjorn). Babies can be put in some carriers as newborns, and they typically hold into the 30 lb. range. This gives you the ability to carry bags or hold other children’s hands while still giving your infant a chance to experience all that the trip has to offer. As a bonus, studies show that babies who are carried during the day cry less than babies who are not.
Often going somewhere with a toddler can be a challenge if the trip does not include a toy store or a treat. Another difficulty can be keeping a child occupied while doing mundane tasks such as grocery shopping or going to the bank. Children have very short attention spans, and need to be stimulated frequently to help avoid behavior issues. However, children love to feel that they are contributing or helping, too.
So, start your trip prepared to offer jobs for the kids. Your toddler is still fascinated by letters, numbers, colors and shapes. Use that interest to your advantage by creating games or tasks that they can complete while you are busy doing your errands. In the grocery store, your child can count the number of red boxes that he sees. At the bank, she can see how many cars go through the ATM. At the mall, have him show you every circle that he sees. The options are many, and it will give you some needed time to think about your duties instead of reining in unruly children. This technique also helps your child learn important skills that he will need in school.
The older the child gets, theoretically, the easier it is to count on better behavior as they “know better”. However, the older they are, the less likely they will be to keep quiet about their boredom or hunger or dislike of whatever you want them to come along with you to do.
So, begin by telling them what you are doing and when. The more precise you can be, the better. Children like to know what to expect. This not only includes the places you will be stopping, but the behavior that should be exhibited in those places. Next, let them have a measure of control throughout the day. You can offer to let them choose where you stop to eat (you provide two or three choices that are convenient and acceptable, they choose which one they would prefer). You can also, if you are flexible with time, let them choose the order that you go to the necessary places. Anything you can do to make them feel included in the day will likely alleviate problems.
You may feel as though once your child reaches this point, it is either no longer an issue to take him with you or it is a lost cause! However, this is actually an easy age to make trips enjoyable.
So, again, I would recommend setting the stage in advance of what is on the schedule and giving them some choices throughout the day. However, friends are the focus of teens. It is always a plus to allow them to bring a friend along to keep them happy and occupied. I would encourage you to offer the choice to bring a friend that you know and like, rather than leaving it completely up to your child. That way, your child gets a “spend a boring day” partner of sorts, and you get the chance to spend time with your child and get to know their friends!
In all cases, there are obvious things you can and should think about when taking your kids with you. Always bring snacks and fluids with you. Always plan for your errands to take twice as long as you think they should. Always think through the schedule; even if it is more convenient to go furthest away to closest, it may be better for the kids to go to a playground half way through the day to get some needed energy out that is out of the way. Most of all, be prepared for anything, and enjoy cherished moments with your little ones.