Ask a Storytime Ninja: Parent Behavior

As always, please share any additional comments in the, well, comments!

This week’s question:

“How do you handle parent behavior in storytime? We get a lot of parents who think our toddler time can be used as their social hour and will chat with each other during storytime. It is most common during our baby and toddler programs when parents are required to attend. Our flyer includes a blurb about being a respectful participant, but who knows if they’re reading it. I prefer not to call them out during storytime, but I’m getting close to it. Does anyone have a method for getting good adult behavior?”

The answers:

Abby (@abbylibrarian) says: What has worked for us (most of the time, anyway) is going over our expectations at the beginning of storytime and using rule cards inspired by Miss Mary Liberry to help the kids AND parents remember. Yup, it’s mostly for the kids, but we’ve used it with the adults occasionally, too. We have a bell that we can ring to get everyone’s attention and then we hold up the rule card that everyone needs a reminder for.

 [Melissa Depper also shared a GREAT script with us at the ALSC Institute last year, which I hope she replies to the thread with… if she doesn’t, ask her! It’s something like “Parents, we know that our kids look to us for how to behave and everyone is going to get much more out of storytime if you’re participating, too!” but it sounded better than that…]Ingrid (@magpielibrarian) says:

Before the entire storytime I say something like this: “Welcome to Toddler Time, I’m Ingrid, one of the Children’s Librarians. This room is all-purpose and therefore not child-proof, so if you find your child trying to go through the cabinets, please gently lead them back to the group. If your child is crying, having a hard time, or being aggressive towards another child, please take them out and try to come back another time. Cell phones are fine for taking pictures of your child, but not for talking on or texting.”
I know that sounds like a lot, but it seems necessary.
We read three stories during storytime and before *each* book, I say, “I don’t expect the children to be perfectly quiet or to sit still as statues. What I do expect is that if your child is not being gentle with another child, please take care of it. Also, you are the role-models for these children. If they see you sitting and listening to the story, they will too. Maybe not today, but they will. If they seeing you talking or texting, they won’t. They’re almost always emulating your behavior and not mine.”
Again, I know it’s a lot of talking, but it’s become necessary and I can also talk pretty fast.
If people DON’T listen to my long speeches and do whatever they want anyway, and if it’s so bad that it’s distracting me and the children, I will stop and call the individual out. It’s not always a battle worth fighting, but I’ve had a man stand right next to me and talk on his phone right in front of the program. Things like that? I will absolutely say something. It’s preventing me from doing my job and I’m there to do a job.

Tabin says:
I’m not into speeches, signs or flyers about bad behavior because I attended an ALA Transformer program and their response to my question, “But what about signs for crazy people?” was something along the lines of, “Crazy people don’t read signs or follow instructions.” So what I do is before reading each book I say in a voice that gets softer and softer, “To read this story I need everyone on the magic carpets and for everyone to be very, very quiet.” Then I whisper, “Is everyone ready?” several times and don’t start until it’s reasonably quiet. This makes the parent chatter stands out from the toddler chatter, the quiet parents start giving the talking parents the evil eye, and usually they’re quiet in about 7 seconds for fear of being throttled in the parking lot.

Meagan (@theemegnificent) says:
This used to be a huge problem for me at my previous library, partly because we had such big numbers for toddler story time that it was always a little loud and crazy.  If it was too chatty I would talk a little softer and say, “Okay everyone, let’s turn our listening ears on (and we would ‘turn the dials’ on our ears to turn them on) and keep our talking to ourselves (while putting our hands over our mouth) so we can all enjoy this fun story”.  This usually makes the parents more aware of their talking and really seems to work for quieting everyone down.
I just made it up on a whim when I was getting really frustrated so it’s not perfect but it seems to do the job!

Kim (@LibrarianMarian) says:
I’m not sure about the structure of your toddler times, but we have about 20 minutes of stories and songs and 20 minutes of “play time.”  We have blocks, toddler friendly toys, and boardbooks.  I’ve found that the mommies need this time just as much as the kids do for socialization.  Since they know that their socialization time is coming, the parents don’t really talk during the story time itself.  I always try to be sensitive to new moms because I know that they are lonely and desperate to connect with other moms, though talking through story time is definitely distracting to me and the kids alike.
It’s for this same reason that I’ve kept craft time at the end of story time though I know that many of my colleagues have gotten rid of it. Mom’s tend to talk during that period of time most.
As for confronting parents, I have stopped the story time to wait for quiet and I also do speak to them in a more general way; “My friends, I’m having trouble talking over all the noise right now.”  Honestly, I hate confronting people about noise because I feel it turns me into one of those shushing librarians, but I won’t blow out my voice so that people can socialize either.

Rick (@iceskates) says:I attended a Sing With Our Kids workshop last week with Nancy Stewart and she had the cleverest idea for gently nudging parents to focus on storytime (rather than their cell phones).  I realize this is a little different from chatting with each other.. but it’s similar enough that I can’t help sharing.Ok… here’s the idea:

Hey parents (moms and dads, caregivers, big people, whatever you call them).. if your cell phone has a camera, pull it out.  Let’s all take a picture of our child to help remember this moment.  If you don’t have a cell phone or your cell phone doesn’t have a camera, pull out your pretend camera.  Now everybody say “cheese!”

Let’s sing our cell phone song:

You put your cell phones up!

You put your cell phones down!

You put your cell phones up and you wave them all around!

You put your phone on silent and you tuck it safe away!

And that’s where it’s going to stay!

… then, at the end of storytime, you invite the parents to pull out their cell phone: Let’s take one more picture of our children to remember this wonderful time together and then we’ll say goodbye to storytime!

This seems like pure genius to me.  It’s such a fun, interactive way to drive the point home.

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