Some thoughts on parenting...
The other night my son and I went out to dinner at a rather nice restaurant. The prices weren't exorbitant, but the atmosphere was definitely upscale - not kid friendly. No child's menu, no high chairs, and not child proof. (There were lit candles on the tables.) When we arrived, we took a seat near the window and enjoyed watching the sunset as we looked over the menu and placed our orders. But by the time we finished our appetizer, a young family with three children under five years old were seated behind us. Despite the not kid-friendly atmosphere, I honestly thought nothing of this. When our children were small, we took them to all sorts of places, though if we had wanted to eat at such a restaurant then, we would have paid a babysitter and enjoyed the ambiance and the time by ourselves. For whatever reason, this couple did not do so. That would not have mattered to anyone in the restaurant if the children had been quiet and well behaved. Unfortunately, all three were noisy (the youngest spent at least half the time shrieking) and disruptive (as they were leaving, one dumped the candle over, spilling hot wax on the tablecloth). The parents seemed unable or unwilling to control the children. Threats were made, but it was quickly obvious that the threats carried no meaning because they were unwilling to follow through with them.
The whole incident brought back my own parenting memories, and I recalled the day that I learned that it was okay to expect children to obey - to require them to do so. Children don't come to us with willing spirits that are quick to do whatever we say. Anyone who has raised a child knows how quickly that once lovable infant can grow more defiant with each passing year. The sad thing is, kids want their parents to set boundaries for them, and to enforce those boundaries so that they know they are safe. A child left to himself is a scary thing - for everyone around him, and most particularly for himself.
But making threats is not the same as setting boundaries. Boundaries can be rules or just expected behavior in different situations. There are times when it's okay to shout and run and play and times when it is not. Parents are given the responsibility to teach their kids when which behavior is appropriate and where. But there are right and wrong ways to teach such things. Threatening to go home from a place children do not want to be is not discipline. They might have acted worse hoping they could leave!
Unfortunately for this family, one threat changed to another with no follow through, which totally negated the threat. If they were going to use a "if you don't do this, this will happen" technique, the kids needed to care about what would or would not happen, and the parents needed to follow through with the consequence. In other words, "if you don't stop hitting your sister, you are going straight to bed when we get home," only works if Johnny goes straight to bed when he gets home.
There are all kinds of disciplinary measures and reward systems that parents can use with success if they are consistent and loving, firm but kind. Overreacting and then backpedaling can cause all kinds of inconsistencies and punishments that didn't fit the crime. Kids respect parents who can make them mind without crushing their spirits.
Being a parent is a tough job, and I felt a little sorry for those parents who could not keep control of such young children. They left quickly (though not before their youngest had shrieked through most of our meal). Hopefully, they learned something from the ordeal.