Portrait of a Well-Behaved Child


I’ll give you a hint – this is NOT it – though a stellar example of sassitude at 8 years of age.

What does your list of qualities for a well-behaved child look like?

Does she sit in perfect silence at the dinner table, never clanking a fork on a dish?

Does he share with his friends every single time without being asked?

Do they pick up their floor and brush their teeth and put away dishes while simultaneously doing your taxes? (Hey – a girl can dream)

This is more like it – tea time with Anne of Green Gables on? Much better.

Seriously? Does any child do these any of things every time without a good attitude and without fail? None that I know do. For that matter I don’t know any adults who do, or would even try. We’re human and our emotions are what make things spark!

Maybe we need to redefine what a well-behaved child looks like.

Were you well-behaved? Be honest now.

I’d say most of us were a mix, right? 50/50? 60/40? 70/30?

There’s no judgement here. I did my share of both behaving and trouble-making.

If you think back, you can probably recall some of your better moments: Sticking up for a kid who was being picked on at school. Helping a friend who’d been hurt. Listening to your mom and standing quietly in line for 2.5 hours to see the Ramses II exhibit after you’d driven 2 hours just to get there. (No, really, that actually happened. My feet hurt. I was starving. But I was a princess – because this was seriously the coolest thing ever. The ride home is another story entirely.)

But then there were THOSE days. You know the ones.

Sometimes silliness abounds

The day you climbed up on the kitchen counter because mom was busy, and you found a bottle in the cabinet with apples on the label – you couldn’t read, you were dying of thirst and with an apple on the label it had to be juice, right?

Or… you know… it was vinegar. And it was 1982, so that bottle was made of glass and shattered most spectacularly when you dropped it to the floor while spitting out the vinegar you’d just chugged down with gusto. You were screaming at the top of your lungs, and suddenly mommy wasn’t so busy any more. (Yet again, true story)

You get the idea. The lists are long, filled with both stellar moments and misadventures.

My question is this – why do we expect something out of our children that we weren’t able to manage? How are they supposed to be free-willed, independent, thoughtful and creative, while also following every rule, never being a ‘problem’ and being on green,purple, pink or wahtever-freaking-color-is-better-than-average this week?

Here’s the deal. We have perfectly flawed kiddos who love hard and play hard with their  perfectly flawed parents.


Sometimes they’re stellar and sometimes they disobey hard. My oldest cracked out her first curse word at school in K-4. “Put down my damn puzzle!” she cried as the teacher tried not to laugh. I call that an accomplishment – of sorts. And yes, I completely own where she learned that one.

Some days we have boundless patience that amazes even us. Some days we yell. I’m not particularly proud of those days, but they happen. The good in them is that my kiddos get to see what a sincere apology looks like, and that it’s more easily done than they think.

I’m editing this after a phone call in which I listened to one of the best dads I know ask his kid 3 times not to put a block of cheese on the floor. Then kindly ask them not to put the smaller pieces on the floor either. Then calmly advise them that they were welcome to eat it off the floor, however they may wind up with things in their mouth that aren’t cheese. To which his oldest replied, “I got hair.”

This man has more patience as a parent than almost anyone I know – and it’s these moments of head-shaking and laughter that are, in my opinion, the best.

There’s no magic trick. There’s no perfect mommy/daddy/caretaker/custodian/etc. Every parent I know, even the ones who have kids I’d call ‘well-behaved’ , struggles. Why? Because people. That’s why. Little people, big people…people.

So read the tips and tricks – the ‘Asked and Answered’ one works wonders with mine – mostly. Sometimes time-out and losing the xBox is required. Never stop striving. Just don’t kick yourself (or your kids for crying out loud) in the process. No matter how much you might feel you both deserve it. Take a time out and give you both a cookie and breather instead. Then start again.


And remember that no matter what you do – your kid will have a list of things they’d rather not repeat when they’re parents…. Just like you do. If we’ve done it well, maybe we can compare lists down the road as we send their kids back from Grandma’s house with a mouth full of chocolate and dirt in their hair.


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