For example, when our kids were toddlers, we didn't take them to nice restaurants where they had to sit in a chair for a long time and eat food they didn't like. When we did take them to places where they had to be quiet and still, we made sure they had quiet things to do and snacks. And we kept our eye on them, and scooped them up and moved on when we saw signs that their patience was running out, BEFORE the meltdown happened.
This method had one main benefit: from the beginning, we tended to enjoy being around our kids. We weren't anxious or tense around them when they were little in large part because we spent very little time trying to make them behave. We put them in situations where they could behave well, and when they couldn't, we took them out of the situation, gave them a break, let them run around outside and blow off steam, let them take a nap, let them have a snack.
I still smile when I remember our three-year-old twins having races on the sidewalk outside a wonderful Japanese restaurant in Berkeley, in between the courses of a very long dinner with my aunt and cousins. At first, my husband took the kids outside, but by their second or third race, the various adult relatives wanted to go too, and some of them joined in the race. My hunch was they needed a break too.
I am constantly amazed at how often parents around me fail to set their kids up to succeed. Airplanes are a great example. It is really hard to take a little kid on a long airplane flight, so you have to get prepared. You have to bring books, toys, markers and paper, and lots and lots of snacks. If you don't, you kid will start to entertain herself by annoying you, kicking the seat in front of her, etc. And then you start threatening her, telling everyone who will listen how impossible she is, etc. I have no sympathy for the parent in this case, and lots of sympathy for the kid. Why not set her up to succeed instead of setting her up to fail?
Maybe it sounds like I give my kids too much control. Maybe it sounds like I haven't really let them know who's the boss. I choose to think of it this way: from the time my kids were little, I let them know that our family is a team. We're not competing against each other and there aren't winners and losers. We're all on the same side, and we are all going to succeed together. That has built a kind of "esprit de corps" in our family that now exerts a very strong persuasive influence on my kids. They enjoy being around us, and even as they teeter on the edge of adolescence, we still really enjoy being around them. As a result, I can now see that sense of connection and empathy which is such a core part of my parenting is in them too.