Teaching Kids to Behave at the Library

How to teach your toddler or preschooler to be quiet and respectful in the library. Get your kids to behave and leave books on the shelf.

girl looking at library books

One of the biggest goals I have had as a parent is for my children to love to read.

One really effective way to accomplish this is by going to the library.

Unfortunately, young children don’t naturally fit into what is typically expected at a library.

A library is supposed to be a quiet place where people can read books and concentrate without being interrupted. Any mom knows that is best accomplished without kids around (hello nap time!).

Fortunately, children can be taught and they learn quickly. You can teach your children to be quiet in the library. You can teach them to be respectful in a library.

My Library Experience

About ten years ago, I mentioned in an online Babywise mom group that I was doing some library training with McKenna.

Several moms expressed interest in how I went about that process. There was so much interest, I thought “This needs to be a post.”

First, some back story. McKenna is my third child. Anyone who has been around a while or who has read her summaries knows McKenna was a very strong-willed toddler.

McKenna got to a point in the library that she was no fun to take. She was loud, she would not stay where I told her to, and she loved to pull book after book off the shelves.

Obviously, these are not the most desirable traits to have in the library.

Let me tell you, our library was a new library and the person who designed it obviously has never taken a child to the library!

It is lovely and bright, but completely open. It is one large room and the materials used (like the flooring) in it lead to severe echoing! Sounds travels across the building at the speed of light.

The floor in the children’s section is tile. Oh my. It is neither cozy nor noise absorbing. Okay, done with my rant on the library design. I have to work with what I have, and that means dealing with a super echoing space.

I didn’t want to stop going to the library. Again, I wanted my children to love books. It also wouldn’t be fair to Brayden and Kaitlyn to have to stop going.

I could have just taken the older two when my husband was home and left McKenna with him, but that isn’t my style.

I am more of a “house-proof” your child than a “child-proof” your house sort of person, so my inclination was teach McKenna to behave as she should at the library rather than remove McKenna from the library.

How to Teach Kids to Behave at the Library

Here is how I got my incredibly loud, fun-loving, outgoing, strong-willed two-year-old to behave at the library with proper library etiquette.

Make Goals

First, make a list of clear goals you want.

What is it your child is doing that is undesirable? What does she need to learn in order to reach the desirable behavior?

Make your list of concrete goals. Dream big.

Start Training At Home

Like any behavior you want to have in public, for library behavior, you need to start with the basics at home.

If your child doesn’t listen to you at home, why would she listen in public? Make sure she obeys at home before you expect obedience when you are out.

>>>Read: Training in Times of Non-Conflict

Next, practice behaviors at home. You don’t teach public behaviors in public. It is a great place to practice what you have learned at home, not to teach.

Does your child know how to whisper? If not, then telling her to in a public library will not produce the results you are seeking.

You need to teach at home and practice at home.

Consult your goal list and make sure your child knows how to do each of the things on your list.

>>>Read: How to Prepare Your Child for Great Behavior in Public

Remind Before You Go 

Once you know your child can do the things you will be asking of her, head to the library to put it into practice.

Once you get there, but before you go in, run through the list of rules and expectations either at home before you leave or in the car before you go in.

“Do we run in the library? No? What do we do?”

“Do we yell in the library? No? How do we talk?”

Give a clear expectation and a consequence, “If you cannot be quiet while we are in the library, then we will have to leave and go home.”

>>>Read: Utilizing “Ask and Tell” to Get Your Kids to Obey in Public

Go One-on-One at First

If you have other children that can and will distract you from the child learning library behavior, leave them home.

Brayden and Kaitlyn were very well behaved in the library, and during our intense training time, I still only took McKenna. I wanted her to be my one concern and worry.

The tricky thing with a child a few kids in is that she quickly figures out that when mom is distracted, she can get away with things. And with other children to take care of, mom is often distracted.

All it takes is one older sibling excitedly showing me a book she just picked out to give McKenna the cue to run off.

Sure, she gets caught and stopped at some point, but she got to have fun until then. This third child of mine was a master at reading me. She was also very patient in waiting for that right moment.

As soon as she saw me distracted, she would seize the moment.

This is a unique skill she had over my older two. With two, I was never distracted enough to let a child slip under my radar.

So start with just you and the child learning. Keep all focus there. Get off your phone, don’t look for your own books, and keep attention on that child. It won’t be long you have to do this.

Make Training Your Focus of the Visit

When you go to the library during intense training, go with training as your primary goal.

Don’t go intending to find 15 great picture books on apples.

Your goal is not books–it is library training.

I still looked at books and choose books. After all, I was working on teaching her what to do so I could get books in peace with her behaving at the library. But if I needed to completely drop what I was doing, I was ready and willing to do so.

Be Super Consistent

I did not let her get away with one inch during training. Because I am consistent with her at home, she knew I was serious at the library. I had clear expectations and clear consequences with no second chances.


It really only took a couple of times at the library focusing on training to get things under control. And it became is so easy!

I could tell her where to sit. I could tell her which books she can look through (they have bins of toddler books that are not organized).

She was quiet. She listened to me.

I am so glad that I put the effort into training. Her favorite place to go was the library. Today she LOVES reading. It was well worth the effort it took to teach her how to behave at the library.

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This post originally appeared on this blog in September 2011

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13 thoughts on “Teaching Kids to Behave at the Library”

  1. Great post! I need to work on this with my son. He is the same age as McKenna……he loves to pull all the VHS movies off the shelf..uggggh! But, boy does he LOVE to go 🙂

  2. Could you give more specific examples of how you trained her? I understand the concept but I'm interested in what the training actually looked like.

  3. Yes! Thank you so much Val. We just moved and I checked out our new library with both my children 3.5 and 19 months yesterday…it was a dismal failure, so this post is very timely. ~ It went something like this: 19 month old boy saw a youth book with a dog on the cover and started running around yelling "whhooff whoof"…I put him back in the stroller and my 3.5 year old daughter who has been toilet trained for a year proceeded to say "I have to pee" and started going…and couldn't stop! Yikes….we cleaned up, grabbed some books and made a fast get away. ~We're going to work on quiet sitting and quiet voices at home and then try again (when mama is trying to check out 30 books for homeschooling!) Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Great post! Really love the training concept. I probably should've done it this way with DD #1, but she learned very quickly once I left with her a couple times when she wouldn't listen and stay put. With #2, who is a little more, um, spirited, I will definitely try this. I'll really have to work on this lack of childcare thing though. Don't know who I would leave her with.

  5. Laura, I gave her rules and just didn't let her break them. So she wanted to play with the computers, which obviously isn't very appropriate for a two year old to do unsupervised. I told her she couldn't play on the computer. She didn't listen. So I took her to a chair and held her on my lap–basically as a time out. She didn't like that. But she tried it again, so we sat in the chair again (just sitting–no books or anything). After that she listened. She knew she wasn't going to get away with it, and she also knew that looking at books is more fun than sitting in a chair doing nothing.

  6. snydsy33, I think leaving if she isn't being good is a perfect move, also. If the child loves being at the library, she won't want to do things to be taken away.

  7. Hi Val,Thanks for providing that specific example in response to Laura's question. One additional question- when you sat with McKenna in the chair how long did you sit for? I anticipate that my 20 month old son would scream and squirm if I tried that (or any other version of restraint). I don't want to disrupt others, but don't know how else to get him to understand what is not OK. Also, do you take a similar approach to training for church? I'd like to train my son to sit and play quietly for an hour but am not sure how best to approach this. Would blanket time work for this? Is it too late to start blanket time at his age? Sorry for all of the questions, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now. : )

  8. Ditto Jen P – if I were to hold my son while sitting in a chair, he would likely pitch a fit (because all HE wants to do is run around and play). I realize I am the parent, so I definitely want to train/encourage appropriate behavior, but without causing a major disruption to other library patrons. Suggestions?Along those lines, I have read and understand the idea of figuring out beliefs/goals and the "why" for various behavioral expectations; However, I feel that I am lacking in the "how" department. Do you perhaps have suggestions (or could point me to a blog post) for various discipline strategies (e.g., a toolbox of sorts) that new parents could utilize, since we know that different strategies work with each individual child? Thanks so much if you can help – you are awesome!

  9. Hi, I’m an employee at a small local library, and I really appreciate your post. The other day I had a homeschooling mom come in with four children. When they left, I had 52 books to put away. I love it that people are teaching their children to love books and love the library, but I wish this family would learn some library etequitte.


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