Six tips for shepherding your child in public


Sometimes our kids misbehave. And sometimes they do it in public! They kick, they scream, they act disrespectful, they cry, they throw a tantrum. With our four, this has happened quite a few times over the past 9 years. And since it happens in public, it’s embarrassing, frustrating and can ruin the moment. For a lot of parents, it can be overwhelming.  In the moment, it can also be very hard to know what to do.

We’ve made our mistakes and been overwhelmed just like anyone else. But here’s what we’ve found to be effective.

  1. Prepare in advance. That is, take time to talk with your child before you get there. Communicate what you expect in advance. Before you even get out of the car, remind them of where you are going and what you expect. Setting expectations is a vital part of navigating these situations.
  1. Engage misbehavior. One mistake that parents often make is to let bad behavior go unchecked. Granted, it’s stressful and overwhelming, but this is the wrong approach. We must remember that we are shaping their character and letting stuff like this go unchecked only sets our kids up for major difficulties later in life. If our kids are misbehaving, we must engage it!
  1. Keep your word. How often do we hear parents say, or maybe say ourselves, “If you do that one more time I will…”, and then watch the child do it again and the parent do nothing. No! If you say you are going to do something, do it. Inconsistency between word and deed breeds problems, both now and later. Your word must mean something!
  1. Pull them aside. When you do engage your child, it’s probably wise to pull them aside while doing it. You must engage the bad behavior, but you don’t want to humiliate them. Pulling them aside helps to avoid this. But, it also communicates the seriousness of the situation, gets their attention, and reminds them that you are the one in control.
  1. Don’t bribe. Rewarding a child for behaving well is one thing. Bribing them is another. When your children do well, praise them for it and let them know you are proud of them. But don’t expect bribes to work on poor behavior. (“If you stop crying, I will buy you candy.”) Bribing them communicates that they are in control.
  1. Be calm, but firm. Most of all, keep calm but firm in the midst of the situation. Losing your cool only makes the situation worse.

Hang in there, parents! Your kids are worth it!

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6 responses

  1. A wise and pertinent post! Please write a future article on how to respond to younger children who are tired, teething, or sick. One example I think of is children crying and screaming on a flight. Until my own did it I did not realize that head congestion prevented their ears from “popping” or clearing as the air pressure changes with the altitude. They were in excruciating pain and I had thought children were simply throwing a tantrum.

  2. Dr. Dew,
    Thank you for your weekly blog writings as I know they are very helpful to those of us raising children or grandchildren.
    Two other thoughts for your consideration on Friday’s post:
    1) Role Model: children will mimick their parents behavior. We need set examples for our children. All.the.time. I once had my young daughter exclaim “Come on lady, get your (expletive removed) car out of the fast lane”.
    2) Consistancy: we need act/react the same way when a similar situations arise. For example, opening a door for an elderly stranger on time and then ignoring another at a later time is creating a confusing role model for our offspring. Always being kind and considerate is an easy example to follow.

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