Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Don't Wash Your Hands in the Bidet!

Mister Meister. 
Our time in Munich is coming to an end tomorrow. Over the past five days, including a five-hour delay in the Newark airport I discovered some great things my kids can do, and I also discovered that I need to work on teaching them manners and polite behavior.


We're making progress. After he used the bathroom, we asked our five-year-old if he had washed his hands. 
"Yes, I used the little sink next to the potty!" he replied.
Yikes.
He thought he was doing the right thing and my husband and I felt pretty bad telling him it was the wrong choice. As parents, a big part of this vacation means struggling to balance constantly correcting our kids and making sure they have fun. 
I've read tons and tons and times that you should emphasize the behavior that you want to see and make positive statements. At first I thought the benefits were mostly psychological but now I know it's also a wonderful time saver. 
Here is an example:
"Keep your hands to yourself" is a positive behavior statement. It illustrates the behavior you expect, sets clear boundaries, and saves you lots of time. Because I didn't stress "keep your hands to yourself" before entering the airport I wasted a lot of time addressing negative behavior: 
"Don't grab your brother by the shoulders and shake him back and forth violently while your parents are checking in for an international flight."
"Don't run your hands all over the rollers and put your fingers in between the rollers at the security checkpoint."
"Don't push the keypad outside the elevator."
"Don't punch all the buttons at the elevator." 
At home it's pretty easy to give our kids downtime and let them run a little crazy in the backyard or our living room. But on vacation, we're constantly navigating the borderlands between what our kids want to do, what we are willing to let them do, and what strangers around us will tolerate.
I know that self-restraint and self-control take time to develop. I know they don't have the empathy to respect the needs and personal space of strangers. I also know they are not malicious kids out to willfully bother anyone (except their brothers).  It's hard when I'm trying to prioritize my kids' wants and strangers' expectations - which is of course impossible. 
So when I can I let them shake, wiggle, jump, shout, roll on the ground, and generally get their crazies out. When I can't, I am admonishing them to think about how their actions might be bothering other people. 
I am also struggling to teach them about polite and impolite behavior and appearance without telling my children that they are not "acting cool" or even "acting normal." I know that "normal" includes a range of behaviors. For instance, there are over 20 versions of normal crawling. Any one of these indicates normal development. But some of those crawls look kind of weird. 
And my kids may be doing normal kid behavior but it still looks weird when my 7 year old tucks his arms and legs into his t-shirt and stretches it into a tent around his body. Or when my 5 year old smells the salt shaker. Or when my 7 year old slides way down in the chair and puts his knees by his ears and sticks his bottom out at everyone walking by. Or when my 5 year old repeats "Mister Meister" like 500 times. Maybe 600. 
Someone please tell me, at what age will they figure out that kind of stuff is just weird?? And when it finally does dawn on them that it is a little strange, will I miss their absolute disregard for the opinions of other people?