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Controlling a Child's Public Behavior

Nov 02, 2010 | By Harvey Craft

Few things are more frustrating to a parent than having a preschool child misbehaving in public. Here's a discipline plan to manage children's behavior on shopping trips.

Young girl throwing a tantrumEveryone has either seen or been parents of a "wild child" crying, running, begging for this or that toy, or being rude to mom or dad. Parents want to maintain control; they want everyone who looks on to view them as competent parents, but the choices seem limited.

Parents Need to Understand why Children Behave as They Do

It is when children have developed vocabulary and can walk that the real challenges begin. The best prevention is the knowledge that there will be challenges to parental competence. Those who believe that the answer to any public acting out is best solved by a swat to the rear are likely to fail in calming their child. Being hit simply isn't a good reason to be quiet, but it can and does teach children that hitting is acceptable behavior. Effective discipline doesn’t require spanking.

Curiosity is behind much of the behavior of children. Wanting to reach out and touch things in the wonderful and colorful world of a grocery store is absolutely normal.
Parents should manage these actions calmly and kindly by gently removing captured objects from the child's hand. Also, taking a favorite toy along as a distraction or source of entertainment may help occupy children. Parents must be vigilant and keep children close in public.

Young boy in grocery cartThe grocery cart offers a fun ride for the non-walker and even for those who can walk. Know what normal behavior is for a particular age, and manage it. Some things that kids do are very annoying, but very normal. Disobedience, to some extent is normal – don't take it personally. Discipline is always necessary – punishment isn't.

It helps to remember that all behavior is meaningful. Try to understand the meaning. Children who are not yet able to talk must communicate in other ways. Discomfort, hunger, wet diaper and pain will result in crying.

Prevention is the Best Discipline Plan

As with many troubling events in life, prevention is the preferred approach. The same applies when children misbehave at home. Of course, what adults refer to as misbehavior may be simple communication.

Raising children causes inconvenient changes in the lives of parents. It's best to simply acknowledge that fact and plan to deal with it. A total discipline plan is a part of good parenting. Parents should discuss expectations and be certain they are willing to apply the same plan. What to do in public is an important part of a plan.

Before taking a child to a particular location, try to anticipate what situations might arise. Grocery stores have lots of stacks – be aware! Talk to the child about the destination and what is expected. If a child is told that refusal to stay in the cart will result in returning home immediately, then be willing to return – immediately. Do not continually threaten.

Consequences of misbehavior should eventually be completely predictable by a child. Be willing to walk out of the store leaving the cart in the aisle. This may seem extreme, but children learn the circumstances that allow misbehavior.

Avoid placating a misbehaving child with a purchase of a toy or candy. This merely teaches a child how to get a reward. Verbally reinforce good behavior. Boast to others in the presence of people important in the child’s life.

Mother and child shopping easily together

Practice the Plan and Love the Child

Early on in the "out of the house" experience, make a practice run or two. Make sure the child understands the expectations. If behavior is a problem, return home and have a discussion.

Rehearse mentally when out alone. Observe other parents and how they are managing children and learn from their successes and failures. Mentally analyze what is happening and ask why a parent is succeeding or failing.

If the child is crying or whining out of simple frustration or the need for attention, the best reaction may be no reaction. Crying and whining can be a simple attempt to manipulate the parent or it could be a cause for concern. Parents can generally tell the difference, and they should try to ignore attention-getting behavior. Children eventually learn to stop doing things if they don't produce the desired results.

Never try to induce guilt in children. In fact stay away from actions that can be emotionally damaging, like telling a child that he is "bad." The combined force of unrelenting verbal abuse can have serious negative effects later. There is a big different between doing bad things and being a bad person, and parents need to make that distinction clear.

Publicly misbehaving children can be frustrating and try the patience of parents, but help comes from understanding and planning ahead. Be certain that a child feels safe and loved. Separate the behavior from the child and discuss it with him. If parents are forgiving, they teach children to forgive. Children are certain to misbehave. The parents’ job is to manage it properly and to teach children to improve as they grow.

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : child, children, kids, bad behavior, tantrum, discipline, plan

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