Taking children out in public can be a very challenging and frustrating experience. We have all witnessed a child having an epic meltdown in a store and have been very thankful that it was not us at that moment. In the last year as we have been spending more time at home, we may have had a reprieve from these behaviors, but as places begin to open their doors back up, parents will be faced with this challenge yet again. Here are some tips on why children misbehave and how to manage it.
Why do children misbehave in public?
Visits to doctor’s offices, restaurants, or even shopping trips can take too long for small children. Children who are four or five usually cannot remain compliant and well behaved for over two hours. Children also may not know what to expect in public situations, making them anxious and misbehaving. Young children quickly learn that many parents will give in quickly at just the hint of a public tantrum. Because of this, misbehavior in public can be attention-driven. When parents are running errands or shopping with friends, the child is not the trip’s focus. Children may realize this and know that they will get a parent’s attention and focus if they misbehave. Lastly, public outings can present children with endless opportunities and too much stimulus, resulting in misbehavior.
Tips on how to manage misbehavior in public:
1. Create learning experiences.
Creating learning experiences can help prepare your child for the outing. If you know your child struggles with trips to the grocery store, you may need to set up trial runs when you are not pressed to get dinner on the table. Only go inside for a short period of time and praise all of your child’s positive behaviors such as holding your hand, staying close, or keeping their hands inside the cart. Or if going out to eat at a restaurant is the issue, try going to expensive places first and only getting a drink or a snack while practicing and praising appropriate mealtime behaviors before going out to a sit-down restaurant for a full meal.
2. Set clear rules and expectations.
Set clear rules and expectations and be prepared to discipline your child if needed. Make sure your child knows what is expected of them. For example, make sure that they know they need to use their quiet voice and hold your hand inside the library or that they are not to run ahead of you in a parking lot or inside a store. If your child misbehaves in public, you might be able to ignore the behavior as long as others in the store are not reinforcing it. However, if they are having a tantrum that cannot be ignored, you may have no choice but to leave the store and practice a short time out in the car. If your child can calm down, you can give them another opportunity to be successful. If their behavior continues, it is best to leave the store. Try not to threaten your child with leaving and then continue to shop. This reinforces the behavior, and they need to know that you are serious about your consequence.
3. Involve and engage your child in the event or activity.
If you are at the grocery store, you can ask your child to help you find the right apples. You can also engage in conversation about colors, shapes, or how much items cost to keep their interest. At the doctor’s office, try getting your child excited to show the doctor how much they have grown or at the dentist how well they are doing at keeping their teeth clean. Children will learn these visits are not always about “something being wrong,” but also a moment of pride about how well they are doing.
4. Be patient and realistic with your child.
Provide exposure to public places for your child to learn beginning at a young age. Praise them for positive behaviors and model what is expected of them. Also, understand when situations are not kid-friendly and do not put your child in a position to fail.
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