Q: How can parents make children mind in public, especially in stores? As a saleswoman, I have seen it all, from ignoring the child to spanking, with countless no-no-no's and time-outs in between. Please ask parents who have well-behaved children in public what they do that works.
-- Diane Birdwell, Dallas, Texas
A: When you see children behaving beautifully in a store, they're most likely fresh from a nap, full from a snack and just heard "the shopping rules" yet again before walking through the door.
Their parents are remembering the cardinal rule of shopping with children:
Keep it simple and keep it short.
"Be realistic with your expectations," says Mary McNeish-Stengel, a Baltimore reader. "Know what you want to ** get, and don't spend a lot of time making choices. Make the choices before you get to the store."
Most parents agree that learning to behave in public starts at home.
One thing parents can do at home to prepare their children is to play a pretend game of going shopping.
To play, explain the rules you'd use while in a real store, and then let the child practice following them, says William Pinkerton, from Pico Rivera, Calif.
Several parents suggest taking shopping trips for the sole purpose of teaching the child appropriate behavior.
"With our 3-year-old, we go over the rules on the way to wherever we're going," says Becky Cubbin of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "If he starts acting up in the store, I quietly remind him."
It also helps to prepare the child for the trip.
"If we're going on lots of errands, I make sure my children know the list," says Rebecca Beede of Cooper City, Fla. "First the bank, then the market, etc. At the end, I always put a treat, so they have something to look forward to."
Here are some other tips:
* Be clear about the behavior you expect. "Give concrete examples -- walk slowly so we don't fall and get hurt or break something," says Sue Wiseman of Columbia Heights, Minn.
* Never shop at meal-times or when a child is sick or tired, says Marie Lockhart of Baltimore.
* Praise good behavior. "Praising works wonders," says Mary Beth Schleter of Chippewa Lake, Ohio.
* Resist the temptation to ignore them. "I asked questions about what we saw, and the children supplied the answers," says Linda Jensen of Torrance, Calif.
* Give the child something to shop for or an unbreakable item to hold, suggests Liz St. John of Tacoma, Wash.
* Be a role model. "I'm always very well-behaved and point out how I'm being polite," says Rebecca Beede of Cooper City, Fla.
* Be prepared to leave the store when things get out of hand. "We all have our rough days, and no child is always well-behaved," says Kathleen Rauh of Apex, N.C.
While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 6. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 4-year-old daughter.
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* Baby-sitting blues: "My daughter-in-law is constantly asking me to watch my granddaughter whenever she wants to go out," says C. E. of Buffalo, N.Y. "It's the only contact I have with my daughter-in-law. I'm in my late 70s and don't have the stamina. I want to know how to say no without any hard feelings."