7 Tips For More Peaceful Family Outings

A few days ago, I received a compliment about my children from someone I pass by every week on the way to one of the many therapies that my family members attend. I was at our local medical center by myself for an appointment and the person checking me in told me that my children are always quiet and calm when they walk through the building. I was immediately reminded that my babies are growing up and beginning to recognize social expectations. Of course, I do not want them to abide by expectations without considering the implications, but I do want them to learn to “play the game” so to speak. My children and I do not pick up social cues easily. It takes a lot of thinking, planning, and mimicking what other people do, so this compliment was particularly celebratory in that sense. When I mentioned what happened to my friends, one asked me how I got my children to be quiet and calm in public. After I answered, I realized that my approach might be helpful to even more people. So, here are some of the things I try to do consistently in order to set my kids up for success.

  1. Create a low demand, no punishment/no rewards household. It starts at home. I put in work daily to reduce the need to place expectations or demands on my children. I try to establish routines that become second-nature, so they don’t have to think about what’s coming next. And, when things are off-kilter and my children make choices that do not correspond with our family values, I do not coerce them into compliance with punishments or rewards. If I need for them to stop doing something, I gently stop them. Then, we reset together and find emotional balance. And, then they are free to go back to what they were doing. My goal is not to control them, but to help them self-regulate and learn, through doing, how to live in community with others. So, I intervene as much as I can before something upsetting happens rather than waiting for the kids to make a mistake so I can jump on them about being bad.
  2. Offer high responsiveness to needs. My children don’t have to wait long to have their needs met. If they are hungry, I feed them. I don’t use food as a bargaining tool. If they are tired, they sleep. I don’t fuss at them that they should wait until night time to sleep. If they need to go outside and run, we do that. And, we do it no matter what their behavior has been otherwise. I do not take away the opportunity to run outside, because I don’t like what they’ve been doing inside. If anything, I’m encouraging them to go play and get that energy out! So, when we leave to go somewhere, they aren’t generally hungry, thirsty, tired, emotionally overwhelmed, etc.
  3. Work on emotion coaching. Speaking of being emotionally overwhelmed, we don’t really do that here. All emotions are always welcome and affirmed. I do not tell my children to stop crying. I don’t tell them to calm down when they are clearly having big feelings. Whether at home or away from home, we practice emotion coaching. I’m tuned into them, so I know when something isn’t quite right. I view emotional moments as an opportunity to connect with them; not to get frustrated with them. I listen to them and help them identify what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling it. I affirm their emotions and tell them “It’s ok to feel {emotion}.” And, then I work with them to rectify the situation they’ve found themselves in. For example, if my child sees a toy they like in the store and it’s not in our budget to get, I will gently stay with them as they experience the frustration, anger, and grief at having their plan to play with that toy derailed. I let them know, “It’s ok to be upset. You really wanted that toy!” I offer affection and let them know we can go when they’re ready. When we hear and connect with our kids, they can work through the biggest of feelings.
  4. Plan and prepare. Before we go anywhere, I explain where we’re going and what we’ll be doing. I also tell my kids what I need for them to do. Children do not inherently know how to behave in different circumstances. And, frankly, neither do adults! We all have to learn how to navigate unknown environments. So, when it’s time for a new experience, I explain the expectations, such as “Please use walking feet and quiet mouths,” and ask my children to tell me what they’ve understood me to be saying. Getting that confirmation helps me know if they’ve heard me and if there are any gaps in knowledge.
  5. Listen actively. Especially when we’re out and about, I am listening for my children’s needs. When something is wrong, I stop what I’m doing and pay close attention. Then, I repeat back what I hear them saying, and we make a plan to help resolve the issue. For instance, if my child gets hungry while we’re out, we make a plan for when we’ll get a snack and what we’ll have. I try to avoid quick retorts like “Not right now” in favor of problem solving.
  6. Organize time with first, then. This one is very helpful for us. Younger children may not grasp the concept of time yet, but they usually understand sequence. I’ll say something like “First, we’re going to pick up medicine at the pharmacy, then we’ll return our library books, then we’ll play at the park for a little while, and then we’ll go home.” If at any point during the trip, they ask what we’re doing, I can quickly run back through the list of destinations, so they can get an idea of where we are in the schedule.
  7. Plan fun activities. This may well be the most powerful tip I’ve got. I try to add fun things into our schedule when we have to be away from home. Being in the car, walking around different places, waiting, being bored… it’s all a lot for kids. They’d much rather be playing and having fun, and it makes sense. They’re built to play! So, if we have to be out, we might as well enjoy ourselves. It might look like getting some play time in at the park or another location of their choice. We might stop for ice cream or visit a friend. It’s simply baked into the way we do things as a little unit. I make no promises that we’ll do something exciting as a reward for cooperation. Rather, I look for things to do that will be fun and try to make them happen. On days when I’m in a hurry and have to say no to the things my children want to do, I can confidently tell them that we’ll do it next time, because it’s how we operate.

And, most important of all, I understand that this is a process. My children are growing up. They’re doing the best they can with the life experience they have so far. If something isn’t working for them, it’s my responsibility to help guide them to a solution. I’m the adult in the situation. That one’s hard to remember sometimes when I’m frustrated too, but it’s the reality. So, if your kids have trouble managing their energy levels and their emotions when your family is away from home, be curious and investigate what’s happening. Children succeed when their needs are met in a way that is tailored to their unique selves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.