Most of the time, we think about how our child’s behaviors affect the immediately family and our home. We often fail to think about how our parenting will affect the child and our friends and family members in social situations. Yet these social situations are the true test of your child’s obedience and your own endurance as a parent. By keeping your child in the funnel at home, you will be able to face the most difficult of social situations with ease.
Think about what happens when you don’t consider social situations. You may have an idea that allowing your toddler free access to the kitchen cupboards is outside the funnel but you allow it anyway. You have chosen to keep only plastic or unbreakable items in the lower cabinets so allowing this freedom is no problem, right? Wrong. What happens when you go to Grandma’s house? My guess is Grandma doesn’t have only plastic items in her lower cabinets. She likely doesn’t have locks on them either. So your toddler promptly opens Grandma’s kitchen cabinet, grabs a large glass bowl and drops it on the floor. Glass flies everywhere. Your child is in danger. Grandma is upset that her favorite glass bowl is broken. And you want to hide away in embarrassment.
If you hadn’t allowed your child to access the kitchen cabinets at home, he wouldn’t have even attempted to open them at Grandma’s house. Even the youngest toddlers know a kitchen cabinet when they see one, whether it’s at home or at Grandma’s. If you make all cabinets off limits at home, he will know not to open them anywhere else.
This idea applies to many objects and scenarios you might encounter in social situations. Think about the following:
• You think it’s cute when your child puts all the couch cushions on the floor and makes a trampoline out of them. Do you think your friend would find this so cute at her house?
• Your child has a tendency to bang your cell phone on the coffee table, but both are old and indestructible so you figure it’s no big deal. What happens when he does the same with the phones at the store?
• You allow your child free access to your books and photo albums but always watch him super closely when he’s looking at them. But what happens when you’re distracted by adult conversation and he starts tearing up your friend’s photo albums?
• You always answer your child immediately and allow him to interrupt your conversations at home. What happens at the doctor’s office when you need to maintain your focus on a complicated subject and the doctor is looking at his watch?
But even worse than allowing your child to be destructive and disruptive is the likelihood that you’ll discipline your child when these things happen. That’s simply unfair and confusing to the child. How is he to know that he’s allowed certain freedoms at home but nowhere else? How can you expect him to interrupt politely when you haven’t taught him how to do so at home?
My own parenting was recently put to the test in a few social situations. We just got back from a visit to my mom’s house. Her house is pretty kid-friendly but she was hosting a party. The kids were allowed to be there, but she made it clear that she wouldn’t be giving any consideration to their needs. There were drinking glasses on a shelf a few inches from the ground. The front door was left wide open so people could go in and out. And I was socializing with party guests. Was I afraid that my kids would trash the house or harm themselves? Not at all. Because I have prepared them at home, they know how to behave. Is it ever okay that they play with glasses even when they’re in plain sight? No. Is it ever okay that they go out into the street by themselves? No. There was one occasion when Lucas (now 21 months) wanted to go into the cul-de-sac where a few adults were standing. From the other end of a long driveway, I called his name. He then promptly stopped and turned around.
We have also been spending a lot of time at the pool for William’s swimming lessons. Lucas will either sit patiently in the stroller the whole time or if I allow him to walk around, I’m not worried that he’ll fall into the pool. At one point, he was standing just a few inches from the edge of the pool. I could tell the other parents were a little concerned (especially since I was a few feet away), but I just called his name and told him to move away and he did. Because I have taught him to obey me and have kept him in the funnel at home, I don’t need to worry about him when we’re out.
The truth of the matter is that we can modify our homes as much as we want to suit the child, but we simply cannot modify the world to suit them. The answer is to prepare your child for social situations, not the reverse. And to prepare your child for the world, you must keep him in the funnel. You simply cannot think through every social situation that might possibly happen at some point in the future and attempt to prepare him that way. And you shouldn’t have to avoid social situations simply because you’re afraid of how your child will react. Don’t waste your valuable babysitter hours to go grocery shopping simply because your child wreaks havoc in the store. Don’t cancel visits with friends because you can’t trust your child to behave in their house. And don’t let grandparents be worried about letting you over to their house. They shouldn’t have to fear for their belongings every time you come over.
Teach your child at home how he should behave. Be proactive with what you will and won’t allow your child to do. Keep him in the funnel at home and he’ll know how to handle himself in social situations.