Thursday, May 23, 2013

Show Me the Awesome: Iron Fist Part 3

Artwork by John LeMasney,
This week I'm glad to join the many awesome people posting for Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion, started and curated by Liz Burns, Sophie Brookover, and Kelly Jensen. Here's a post at Stacked explaining the project, and All the Awesome is collected here.

I'm writing this post jointly with my new coworker, Brooke, who writes about her adventures in librarianship at Reading with Red.

As a former educator and classroom management survivor, I've written a few times about managing our Children's Department, complete with a to-scale boat and a life-size giraffe (here and here, respectively). It's been a trip, and we're finally getting to a place where our space is used by children mostly as it is intended.

I realized, though, that now we've gotten a handle on the kids, we're experiencing something that I haven't written about before:

The adults are going rogue.
So Brooke and I present to you our previously uncharted territory of ...

Like kids, parents will meet as high expectations as are set for them and will adapt their behavior to meet those expectations
Unlike kids, parents are capable of thinking hypothetically and higher level reasoning. This is good, because they can more easily figure out acceptable activities based on rules; it can also be bad, if an adult is prone to rationalizing that rules don't apply to them.

Now before you get all defensive-rational, parents, I'm saying that all adults do this. It could be in the form of lots of things, from drinking and driving to using your neighbor's WIFI signal to being so generous it's a detriment to others (there's a special place in Hell for people who let more than one car in front of them at a time at a previously red light that just turned green. Not that this just happened in front of me 2 hours ago so I'm completely still bitter about it, or anything.)

Anyway, this all may be a catalyst for the bad behavior we see from parents on a regular basis in the Children's Room. 

And the parents are like:

And us librarians are like:

And the standoff begins.
When managing your space, it's so easy to let the bad behavior suck all your joy and dry up all your Awesome.

Here are 4 types of parents we've recently encountered, whose behavior we didn't let get to us. And what we've done to stay awesome for another day.

1. The Skeptic: 
Brooke Says: Parents have a strong sense of tradition, especially regarding storytime. My predecessor had worked in the library for over 30 years, so to say people were attached is a bit of an understatement. My first few weeks of storytime I had some dirty looks, unkind comments, and just overall negativity being directed toward me. I ignored it, because I know I’m awesome. Once the parents saw that I actually knew what I was doing, they finally started participating and showing up with smiles on their faces. 
Classic Line: “Miss so-and-so always ended storytime with the same song for all of my children and grandchildren.”
How to Stay Awesome: It’s easy to apologize for your existence in this situation. Don’t do it! If you apologize for being different, then they will always be waiting for you to change it back. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the contributions of others, but don't sell yourself short.
Comeback: “Yes, she did so many great things! I really love this song about rocketships though and I’m sure your great-grandchild will too!”

2. The Darling
Bryce Says: There are some parents that believe their child is somehow better than other children; that because they are generally well-behaved, their child should get a pass and can be unattended under the age of eight or receive other benefits, as if good behavior is currency. 
Alternatively, there are some parents who think they themselves are above the rules because they have an "in": they go to church with your library director, or their kid goes to school with your supervisor's kids. They might have even enjoyed perks in the past because of this. That fact, of course, doesn't help.
Classic Line: "Well, I know toddler storytimes are for 2 year-olds, but I've always been able sign up my little Cooper. He's only now starting 4K."
How to Stay Awesome: You know the rules, and hey, look, the patron does too! They just don't feel like following them! That might make you mad, but keep your cool and hold your ground. Don't make it about what used to happen, and instead move forward.
Comeback: "I understand that your son might have enjoyed that storytime in the past, but it is official policy that only 2 year-olds can attend that storytime. We have a great storytime for children Cooper's age, though! Here are the times for that. There's no registration so feel free to drop in and try it out!"

3. The Blamer
Brooke Says: Sometimes a parent knows their child is being bad, but they just don’t want to deal with it. They know that if they tell their child to stop running on the boat they will scream, cry, and/or throw things. Sometimes it’s okay to be that bad guy
Classic Line: "You better stop running, or the librarian will yell at you!"
How to Stay Awesome: You don’t have to be mean, but you do have to take an authority position if the parent won’t. Speak to both the parent and child simultaneously in a pleasant tone.
Comeback: “Hi friends! I bet you didn't know that this is the Reading Boat. So you need to have a book in your hands if you’re on the boat.” This automatically demonstrates that they won't be "yelled at". Also, if the parent still feels the need to blame you, you've given a positive voice for further correction of behavior. ("Remember what Miss Brooke said...")

4. The Absolved
Bryce Says: There are some parents who, for whatever reason, enter the library and don't regard it as the public space that it is. They sit down with their laptops, or leave their children unattended in other rooms, and basically expect that it's the responsibility of someone else (the librarian?) to watch their child; either that, or they don't believe that the library is a place their child needs to be watched. At any rate, they wash their hands of their parental duties the minute they step inside the library.
Classic Line: "Is it all right if I leave my 4 year old at the computers? I'll just be a second in the adult section."
How to Stay Awesome: This parent may or may not know the actual rule. Appeal to their parental instincts and offer an alternative.
Comeback: "I understand that your child is doing well, but he/she needs to be with you at all times. The library is public place, like a park, or a restaurant. I'm sure he/she will help you in the adult section and you can return here. Or, he/she can finish up on the computer and you can leave together."

Basically, dealing with all people, the same guidelines apply: set expectations and make them clear. 

Brooke Says: If you’re in a program say the rules at the beginning. Whether it is the first time you’ve ever seen the group or the 20th, say the rules. Do you want the parents to participate with you? What should they do if their child is running around like a maniac? Are you doing an art program with little ones and you don’t want the parents to “fix” their child’s attempts?  State the rules early, then you can repeat them later if necessary. Come up with a short spiel for the beginning of each program where you introduce yourself, explain what you’re doing, and say the rules. It’ll make your life and programs a lot smoother.
Bryce Says: This can work with the general rules of the department, too. If you see a parent not following one of the room's rules, you can walk up to them and non-accusingly say, "Hi, you probably didn't know, but we ask you to..." Unless they are a super-repeat offender, this usually works to stave off the issue. I mean, they might know, and in some cases they probably DO know, but it's reasonable to make the assumption that if an adult, especially a parent in front of their children, is breaking a rule, it's because they were unaware one existed. This can not only help you approach a problem more positively, but the parent will also feel less of that defensive-rational emotional reaction and have a more enjoyable library experience.

What are some of your favorite Parent Management strategies? How have you stayed awesome in the face of frustration? Let us know in the comments!


  1. Adds to her spiel: Each person needs a library card to use the computers. There's a half hour limit on computers in the children's room and no Facebook or YouTube. Sign your name here and the time is, ohhhhh, 10:30.

  2. we definitely have all of these types of parents (thank you for giving them names!) but we also have another type that i would classify as "the sedated." they behave like a combination of the Darling, the Blamer and the Absolved, they with this disturbingly calm and detached affect that i am sure comes from mountains of anti-anxiety medication they must take to deal with their child on a regular basis. or maybe it's meditation. either way, they are so ineffective, it's painful. they are the ones who slowly and oh-so-briefly look up from their private and intense search for a picture book when they hear their five year old scream like hellspawn. "oh, is that my kid? sigh."

  3. I need to get better at reminding parents of the rules at the beginning of my Baby and Toddler Time. I want parents to participate more, but I think they don't want to look silly. If we all just did it together then it wouldn't be a concern.

  4. Ooh! If it is shameless self promotion I'll have to check it out. And rules are always difficult but ikmportant.

  5. It was definitely a month of self-promotion-- we don't do enough of that as YS librarians!