Kids in Public

How to deal with your children in any public setting -- and help them learn the value of self-control at the same time.

What Not to Do

Try these tips for minimizing kids' tantrums in public places.

A young couple went into a large department store with their son, who was about 2 years old. The mother talked with a clerk as the father held the child in his arms. The only problem was that the little guy wanted out -- in a hurry. He began squirming and pushing away from Dad, who held on while trying to distract the child. It was to no avail. The boy, typical for his age, continued to struggle and protest, becoming more and more frustrated by the second.

Finally, Dad sat him on the counter and said, "Hey, Justin, how about if you and I go pick out a toy, OK?"

That must have sounded good to Justin because he stopped crying and, still sniffling, nodded yes. So Dad told Mom they'd meet her in the toy department in 10 minutes. Unfortunately, Justin's parents will pay dearly for that trip to the toy department for months, maybe years, to come.

Tips for Maintaining Control

For obvious reasons, kids are far more difficult to handle in large public places than in the relative confines of home. And, sad to say, there's no easy way to stop your child's public shenanigans completely.

There are, however, things you can do to bring your child's public behavior under control -- even in the worst situations imaginable. Here are a few suggestions:

  • In advance, tell your child the purpose of the outing, so he or she knows what to expect and, perhaps even more important, what not to expect.
  • Do not make promises of, "If you're good, we'll buy you a such-and-such." Deals of this sort teach your child to expect rewards for simply behaving well. Kids need to learn that good behavior is its own best reward.
  • Save yourself a lot of grief if you don't teach your youngster to expect a goodie every time the family goes shopping. In fact, you may wish to do the opposite -- teach our children to expect only basic necessities. That way, they'll never acquire the habit of constantly pleading for toys and so on during shopping trips. They'll also be surprised and thankful on those occasions when you do present them with something special.
  • Just before going into the shopping center or restaurant, remind your child of a few simple rules, such as, "Stay with me, talk quietly, and look but don't touch anything."
  • When rules are broken, or need to be created on the spot, immediately take your child aside to get the rules straightened out. Do this in an area that's free of distractions.
  • Avoid places where toys and candy are sold. If possible, don't even walk through such areas with your child. Some grocery stores now offer a "candy-free" checkout aisle or two.
  • If your child starts screaming or acting out of control, go quickly into a remote area of the store and stay there until the tantrum subsides or you reestablish control. The quicker you stop the momentum of the child's misbehavior, the better. If things don't improve, consider taking your child outside the store for a while. As a last resort, head for home. Abandoning a shopping cart of groceries or a table of restaurant food to regain control over your child may seem drastic, but it pays off in the long run. The minor inconvenience will be well worth the lesson your child learns.
  • For emergencies, carry a fake nose-and-glasses set. If all else fails, put it on and quickly retreat into anonymity.

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