Disciplining a Child in Public

A major part of parenting is being able to discipline your child no matter where you are. This often means that public disciplining is necessary since it’s nearly impossible to teach your child if your rules lack consistency. Disciplining your child in public is different than the disciplining that you do within the privacy of your home. A certain measure of discreetness needs to be taken as well as a few other extra measures.

There is no reason why your child should get away with misbehaving just because you are out in public; and in fact, your child will quickly learn that he or she can misbehave because they will not be disciplined. Take these few tips into mind when the need arises to discipline your child in public and hopefully everyone will go home happy.

The Rules Need to Be Clear Beforehand

The absolute best way to discipline your child in public is to not have to do it at all. While this may not always be a possibility, you can definitely help by setting clear rules with precise consequences before you ever leave the house. Have a talk with your child about what you will be doing and how you expect him to behave. Let him know that there will be consequences for bad behavior and that in the future, he may not be able to join you on family outings if he does not behave.

If your child has a particular bad behavior that you are concerned about (i.e. tantrum throwing or hitting), it’s a good idea to let them know that they will be punished if they do those things. Many parents find that even the threat of punishment is enough to thwart bad behavior. Also remember to offer incentives and rewards if they get through the day with excellent behavior. Encourage and remind them throughout the day and let them know what a good job they are doing.

Setting rules has no purpose if there is no follow-through behind them. If you set a punishment, go through with it. If you offer a reward, be sure to give it. Likewise, do not give the reward simply because you feel bad. Be very specific about what they must do to gain the reward; if they don’t meet the requirements, they do not get the reward.

Consider Feelings

The main thing to remember when disciplining your child in public (or anywhere at all, for that matter), is to correct their behavior without criticizing them or making them feel ashamed. Discipline, regardless of your location, should be about correcting a negative behavior, not belittling the child. The goal is to let the child know why what they have done is wrong and what you would like them to do instead.

For many children, a glare will let them know to stop what they are doing, while others require a gentle reminder. Be specific; “Please chew with your mouth closed,” will get you a lot further than, “Stop being so rude!” Be discreet; discipline your child without letting everyone present know what is happening. Once your child is put on the spot and feels everyone looking at him, his self-esteem is affected and you have a whole new problem on your hands. Discipline should be between you and your child; nobody else needs to be involved.

If your child needs a bit more disciplining than what you can accomplish with a look or calm words, then remove them from the group and talk to them privately. Let them know that you do not approve of their behavior and let them know what you expect. Warn that they will not be allowed to continue playing (or whatever they may be doing) if their behavior does not change. Remember to follow through with the warning; if they do not start behaving, remove them from their play and have them sit quietly instead; a public “time out” of sorts.

Stick to Your Guns

The importance of follow through cannot be emphasized enough. If you have warned your child and let them know what the consequences will be, you must follow through with the punishment, and it must be immediate. If your child is in need of discipline, telling them that they are in trouble when you get home does no good if they are allowed to continue playing right then. By the time you get home, they have forgotten why they are being punished and the punishment does not have much of an effect.

Disciplining your child requires sacrifice from you as well, so be ready and willing at all times. It’s one of those not so fun parts of parenthood where we ourselves get to endure punishment along with our child. If your child is misbehaving and you’ve threatened to make them sit in the car or in timeout somewhere while out in public, you may have to sit with them. While this definitely cuts into your fun, it’s the only way to let your child know that you are serious when you threaten punishment.

Do not attempt to discipline if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to correct the behavior then and there, or if you are not willing to follow through 100%. All this will do is frustrate you, upset your child, and have no positive effect on correcting the behavior.

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