Over the years I have been asked, in jest, the question,"can you come live with us for a month?"
Parents are both interested in doing the right thing for their children as well as often are doubting their own abilities. There is no such thing as a quick fix and therefore I avoid answering the question of what do I do now when a child behaves in a manner other than what the parent wants. Here are some of the basics.
1. Parents are oversensitive about their children's behavior - parents are under sensitive about their children's behavior. What I mean by this is that parents often want to stop behavior in public that might portray themselves in a negative light and yet they allow behaviors in public and private that are really worthy of attending to. Also parents will let a bunch of behaviors go with a child that is two years old and even label it as cute that when it continues when the child is older they are frustrated by.
2. Allow children to be children. They perform for audiences. These performances might be in terms of increased crying, aggressive behavior, shy behavior, hanging on, whining, running around, showing off, etc. They are all related to the change in "normal." They take their cues from you. Adults also change their behaviors and act differently when "guests" are around and children are still figuring out what this means for them. Sometimes it means testing limits that you think have been firmly set. This is a time to understand but also reinforce the limits you have set.
Here is an example: many years ago I was making a home visit to the home of a child in my class. Both parents were highly educated, they had a nanny that was with their son during the day. When I got there he was sitting on the couch waiting for me. I had never met him or his parents before but he had been told that his "Teacher" was coming. He was 3 1/2 and had no idea what the word meant. Within a few minutes he was up and moving. In the next three minutes he had run around the room, grabbed a ball and started throwing it at things on the mantel. When his father moved to stop him his wife said, "Let him be, he is just excited because his teacher is here." My reply was, No matter what the setting or the reason I don't want him to think that his behavior is acceptable just because something has changed. Had I not done this then I would have been inviting similar behavior once he got to my classroom.
Rather than allowing the parents to handle it I took it as an opportunity to model what I would do in the classroom for a child who was misbehaving. Rather than saying, "Philip, stop throwing the ball." I said, "Philip, you have a really nice ball, will you show it to me?" He walked over with it to show me. I held the ball in my hand as I talked with him about it. (I now had control of the object) I told him how much I liked balls but that they were only to be used outside where it is safe. He nodded his head. I asked him if he had toys he liked to play with inside that he would like to show me. From then on I helped him be in control of being the host rather than the adults knowing that he was the reason for the visit but not engaging him in the process. As I was leaving his mom thanked me and said that what he was like in the first few minutes was typical for whenever they had guests.
3. Meet them where they are rather than expecting them to meet you where you are. This does not mean physically. It means base your efforts by first seeking to understand how you child sees the world rather than expecting him to understand your view. Children are still learning the ability called "Perspective taking." This means being able to be empathetic, aware of others and to tailor their behaviors to accommodate the needs of others. This means becoming self censoring and self directed rather than it coming from outside (you).