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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About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on October 1, 2013, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great ideas, all! I recently had a child walk over to shush his parent. I love the cell phone song!

  2. Here’s my script at the beginning of storytime: The only rule we have in storytime is that parents and caregivers sit with their children and that you participate along. Your children are learning school readiness skills and they aren’t learning them from me, they are learning them from you. They are learning active listening, participation and standing in a line (side note: we do hand stamps at the end so all the kids stand in a line to receive their stamp). Storytime is an activity for you to enjoy together. Your kids won’t remember what books I read today, but they will remember you taking them to the library and singing and dancing with them.

  3. I like everyone’s ideas! I do 3 storytimes a week, one at the local mall. If I’m having a problem with parents chatter I ask everyone to sing one loud enough for the “Pretzel Guy” to hear it! That usually drowns out everything. then I thank everyone for their help, the pretzel guy thanks them, too and now we need to have some really, really quiet storytime warriors so everyone can hear the story. Seems to work for me:)

  4. Thank you to Kim for acknowledging that parents (moms or dads on parental leave, stay at home parents, even grandparents) may actually need the socialization as much as the kids need the storytime. Early parenthood is extremely isolating for many and can contribute to postpartum depression, among other things. Do we want our kids to hear the stories? Absolutely. Do we want our parents to model how to respectfully listen to a story? Of course. But do our parents also need time to connect with each other? HECK YES. It’s really easy to say to ourselves, “Well, they should do that before or after the program time.” But when I was on maternity leave, the library storytime was sometimes the only other time I saw adults ALL WEEK and I’m too shy to approach a stranger out in the library itself, even if I know they go to the same program. If you make sure you’re providing a time for the really, really important service you’re providing to the adults (a chance to connect with other parents) preferably before *and* after the structured part of the program, via free play time, a craft or a coffee break if it’s in your budget, then the talking during the stories should decrease by itself. If it doesn’t, *then* you can address it. But I’m surprised that only one respondent pointed out that it’s super important to remember the parents might need to talk as much as the kids need to listen.

  5. Hey Abby, thanks! Here’s the text of the message I shared at ALSC. It is designed to go not at the very beginning of storytime, when people are still coming in late and getting settled, but instead after your opening sequence and just before you read your first book.

    “Grown-ups, we know [or “research shows” if you need a little more oomph] that children watch what we watch, and pay attention to what we pay attention to–so please put away your cell phones and save your conversations until after storytime. Let’s all do storytime together! This will help our children be successful and to have fun. Ready to listen to our first book?”

  6. Some great ideas here!

    With my Preschool group (ages 3-5) I do a series of “get-ready to-listen exercises” (creative movement with hand rhymes, some stretching, pointing, finger plays etc, often accompanied by a book demonstrating what to do – think “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,” “From Head to Toe'” etc) before I start to read.

    This is usually all I have to do and then they are very willing to listen. I’m fortunate in having parents (mostly mothers) who for the most part, demonstrate good listening behavior. And if a child is not into it on a particular day, the parent simply removes the child quietly from the group).

    There is some quiet chatting but it usually doesn’t interfere. Everyone seems to know to shut their cell phones off.

    I keep the stories simple and brief and only go as long as I have their attention – which is usually about 20 or so minutes.

    I keep craft time until after the stories are read. Then it can get a little noisy which is fine – parents have time to connect, which is truly needed for parents of children of this age.

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