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Solemn or "fancy" occasions seem to require faultless manners, a lofty standard most children simply can't live up to. Polished, pressed, and dressed in her best, your child may look like an angel, but that doesn't mean she'll behave like one.
First, consider whether your child is old enough to handle whatever the event is – and whether she's even invited. (An invitation to you and your partner doesn't necessarily include your children.) If she's old enough and is indeed invited, prepare her beforehand for what will be expected at the occasion.
One useful trick is to establish a signal beforehand to warn your child that a behavior is not appropriate and must stop. Show her that when you tug at your ear, for instance, that means stop. This lets you alert her without embarrassing her.
Also explain to your child what will be happening at the event. "We'll be at David's bar mitzvah, and people will read onstage. It's a big day for David, and we'll need to be quiet and listen."
If it's a wedding, describe what the service will be like and say something like, "We can't talk during the ceremony because we don't want to distract anyone, but we can talk and dance afterward at the party." If you're attending a funeral, point out, "People will be very sad, and if you laugh or sing during the service, it might make them feel bad."
Describe what you want her to do (or not do) at an event – "It would be nice if you'd tell Jonathan 'congratulations' when he comes back with his diploma," or "Miriam wants to open her own wedding presents, so leave them alone when you see them piled on the table."
Little kids – under age 5 or so – simply cannot sit still and listen to a lecture or speech. It's not at all rude to bring crayons or activity books to entertain young children, as long as they play silently. Sit in an unobtrusive spot to avoid distracting anyone, and be ready to whisk your child out should she become noisy or agitated.
By age 4, many kids can:
- sit quietly, with some parental preparation and with quiet toys to play with, during short ceremonies (15 minutes or so)
By age 8, many kids can:
- sit quietly during most ceremonies of a half hour or a bit longer
- understand the importance of special or solemn occasions