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Disciplining Your Child in Public


We have ALL been there. Your child picks the busiest, most crowded public place (grocery store, bank, restaurant you name it) to have their total and utter breakdown. You are already rushed trying to get your errands done, and now you can add the pressure of a screaming, non-cooperating child along with plenty of onlookers waiting for your response. It is very easy to react to the situation by overdoing your discipline (you’re going to find yourself in a two hour time out mister!) after all, all those disapproving eyes are watching. But there are better ways to handle the situation. Here are some tips:

  1. First, take a deep breath. Recognize that your child’s breakdown belongs to her, not you. Let others think what they may, and focus on keeping your emotions under control. Anger, guilt and embarrassment are likely flooding you, so just take a deep breath. You may not have had any control of where and when your child throws their tantrum (because you certainly wouldn’t have picked the cereal aisle!), but you can control your reaction.

  2. Then, take a second (I know, it might seem impossible while your child is screaming bloody murder and threatening to kick over a large stack of cereal boxes, but it won’t take long I promise) and think of why this breakdown might have happened just now. If you’ve been running errands all morning your child might just be running out of steam. They could be hungry or tired (or both). Maybe they are coming down with something and just not feeling themselves. Usually, the underlying reason is not really about you saying no to that candy-for-breakfast cereal they asked for.

  3. Once you realize that your child really isn’t trying to embarrass you beyond belief, they are just incapable of containing their emotions at the moment, your approach will change. Instead of pleading, hissing or threatening your child to PLEASE stop screaming, getting more stressed with each passing moment, you might just surprise them out of it by saying “you look like you need a hug?”.

  4. With older children in particular, they might realize shortly after they take their stand that they are in the wrong, but by then they find it hard to back down. If your emotions of anger or disappointment are in check, you could recognize this and diffuse the situation by saying something funny! They will expect you to respond with “parent-type” authority, so a funny joke would catch them off guard, and diffuse the situation.

Certain behaviours are simply not appropriate, but rather than feeling the pressure to discipline your child in front of the group of strangers that you feel are judging you – diffuse the situation, and then talk about the consequence of the behaviour later, when you are far enough removed from the emotions – and audience – of the public place.

Many times a child’s tantrum is about been seen and heard. They don’t know how to handle the feelings they are feeling at that moment (hungry, overtired etc.), so they come out as a tantrum. But our negative reaction tends to just escalate and prolong it. By taking ourselves out of the situation (remember, this is about them, not you) we can see the tantrum for what it is, instead of getting caught up in that sense of panic.

And honestly, if the crowd of strangers around you are annoyed – so what? I can guarantee that most of them have been there, done that and should have some understanding. And those that don’t – who cares? In your family circle, their opinion shouldn’t matter.

Keep calm and parent on! :)

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