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Dealing With A Wild Child

Dealing With A Wild ChildTufts child development expert George Scarlett advocates for a democratic approach to raising children that balances individual freedoms with parent-enforced limits.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.14.05] Tired of dealing with unruly children, a Chicago café owner recently took matters into his own hands, posting a sign on the door that warned: “Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices.” The sign set off a national controversy, but a Tufts expert says the issues at the center of the debate are not new. While young children should be able to express themselves, their parents must be proactive in setting limits for the children when they are in public, says child development professor George Scarlett.

“The rights of any one individual -- whether he or she be a parent, child or stranger -- do not negate the rights of others,” Scarlett commented to the Associated Press about the Chicago controversy, which pitted parents and experts who feel that children should be able to freely express themselves against others who maintain that a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

ProactiveParentingScarlett, who authored Proactive Parenting, Guiding Your Children From Two to Six with his colleagues at Tufts Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, believes that a balance between the two can be achieved.

In keeping with that belief, the Tufts expert is a strong proponent of democratic living, which “is mainly about everybody (including children) having a voice in determining, not simply … what’s best for individuals, but what is best for all.”

But he warned the AP that some people take the concept of individual freedom too far, extending it to the point where it becomes “a kind of selfish entitlement that undermines our ability to function as a civil community.” A democratic approach to raising children, he added, can help to keep the harmony.

“The key to behavior management, especially for parents, is learning how to prevent problem behaviors from happening in the first place,” he said.

Scarlett shared several techniques with the AP that can help keep children on good behavior while in public.

He told the AP parents should lay some ground rules for their children before they arrive at a restaurant or store. It helps, he told the news organization, for parents to talk about the type of behavior they expect from their kids beforehand.

Scarlett added that parents should discuss with their children what they will be ordering at the restaurant or what they will be allowed to buy at the store. This can save time and head off a public debate, he explained to the AP.

The way in which parents frame these discussions with their children is also important, Scarlett said, favoring positive reinforcement over threats and stern rule-setting. One approach, he described, is to tell children “You know what? I like going to restaurants and other places with you because I get so proud of the way you behave.”

While these are some techniques parents can employ to try to get their kids to behave better in public, Scarlett pointed out to the AP that it’s still necessary to compromise with kids on some rules. He suggested that parents who take their kids to a restaurant allow them to play, as long as they do not wander away from the table or disrupt other customers.













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