Does this scenario sound familiar?

You’re somewhere public: the grocery store, the park, or a restaurant.  Your child starts to misbehave in one way or another.

Time freezes.

It feels like everyone’s eyes are on you, watching to see how you are going to handle your little sidekick.  You ask your child to behave, they get worse.  You threaten, bribe, beg and they still continue to misbehave.  What do you do?

If you have found yourself in this situation, you’re going to want to listen to this episode.

Mike Fitch, CMHC provides clear, actionable steps to follow when your child misbehaves.

I have to say that I was surprised by some of the steps.

By the end of the episode, when everyone looks at you wondering what you’re going to do, you’ll be able to wink at them and say “I’ve got this”.


Mike Fitch, CMHC

Tip #1 Prepare before you go

Kids like to know what the rules, boundaries, and expectations are.  They also like to see what they can get away with. They will test the boundaries when you are in public, so I think it’s better to tell your kids what the expectations are before you leave the house.

    1. Discuss with your kids what rules you have for the supermarket, for the playground, for grandma’s house.  
  1. Also let your kids know what the consequences will be for misbehavior.

This sets everyone up for success.  It sets your kids up for success because they know how they should behave and it sets you up for success because you’ll know how you’re going to respond to misbehavior.

Tip #2 Remind your kids of the expectations

We do NOT believe in giving warnings and second chances AFTER misbehavior has occurred, read more about that here.  However, asking your kids what the rules are at the grocery store BEFORE you go into the grocery store can help them remember the expectations and give them a better chance of success.

For example:

If you have a rule that you don’t buy treats for kids that are whiny, remind them before you go in.  

If you have a rule that the kids need to stay close to you, remind them before you go in.

After a while, you won’t need to remind your kids of all the rules, they will just know them.  It would be silly to remind your kids about grocery store rules every time you go to the grocery store for the next ten years.  Once you know they know the rules, drop the reminders.

Tip #3 Follow through

If you have discussed expectations and consequences with your children, you absolutely MUST follow through!!  I cannot stress this enough. You don’t have to say much, in fact, I encourage you to say as little as possible.  Just simply state what the child did that wasn’t OK then follow through with the consequence.

If you say that there are no treats for kids that are whiny and you give your child treat when they are whiny, you’ve taught them not to take you seriously.  If you want your experience in public to be positive, you must follow through with your “behave in public” plan.

Will that mean that sometimes you’ll have to leave a store, the park, a friend’s house, etc?  Yes! Will that mean that you might have to take a break from your activities to take a short time-out?  Yes. But here’s the good news. If you stick to your plan and are absolutely consistent with it, your child will learn to behave in public and you will very RARELY have issues.

Good parenting takes a lot of work and consistency up front, but that investment will pay you back in the future.  

Note: When choosing a consequence for misbehavior in public make sure the consequence is neither too big nor too small.  To learn more about choosing good consequences, go here.

Tip #4 Give your kids lots of opportunities to practice

One of the best ways to help your children learn how to behave in public is to teach them the expectations and consequences, then let them practice.  Take them to the store, the library, the park, then stick to your plan. They will never learn how to behave in public unless you take them out into public and let them make mistakes.

We want our kids to make lots of mistakes when they’re young and live at home, so we can teach them.  

Be brave, go out, we believe in you.

Tip #5 Be calm and don’t shame the child

I know that I’m always asking a lot of a parent to stay calm when there’s misbehavior in public.  It is so hard to stay calm when your child is throwing a tantrum in Isle 7 and everyone is watching.  It’s hard to stay calm when your child just hit someone else’s child on the swings. However, it’s important to remember that your child is young and still learning and that your negative emotions will NOT help the situation at all.

Staying calm will also help you avoid one of the biggest parenting No No’s out there, shaming your child.

Shaming your child, belittling them with your words, can truly cause emotional harm. Shame can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm and so much more.  Even if you are really upset, you need to keep your words calm and kind. You can be firm about the rules, while still showing respect for your child.

In the end, a well-chosen consequence speaks so much louder than words.  

Tip #6 Learn from the experience

If possible, when you and your child are both calm, talk about the misbehavior that occurred and how to avoid it happening again in the future.  Obviously, this doesn’t work with younger children, but older children may have some great solutions come to their mind.

Also, working together to find solutions helps your child be more committed to the plan because they have partial ownership in it.

This kind of problem solving will also let them know that when a problem arises, they are capable of fixing it.

If you would like to learn some additional ideas from Child and Family Studies major and mom of six, Laura Tesch…click here!

Happy Parenting!

For those of you with the disease I call “MOMNESIA”,

Download our Discipline on the Go guide below!

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