Disciplining your child in public
What do you do if your child flies into a rage in public? Should you give in or discipline them?
PHOTO: Getty Images

Most parents have been in this tricky situation: you’re in a shopping mall, surrounded by strangers, when your child throws a full-on tantrum. Maybe it’s about a toy you didn’t buy, or the sweets they want that aren’t good for their health.

The question is: do you give in to your child’s demands or exercise discipline there and then, irrespective of the disapproving looks cast in your direction by bystanders?

Discipline in itself is a thorny issue, and it becomes even more complicated to dish out when your child’s acting up in public.

Understand the behaviour

Parents can break the vicious cycle of public disobedience only if they understand their children’s behaviour, says Nikki Bush, an author and specialist in creative parenting.

“If you don’t read their basic needs of being tired, hungry, thirsty, bored or in need of attention, they’ll use negative attention-seeking behaviour strategies to draw your attention to them,” she says. Bush says various factors could account for children being disobedient:

  • You may be busy and their disobedience is a way of letting you know they feel neglected.
  • They may have tried to attract your attention in subtle ways. Their loud disobedience is their final attempt at getting it.
  • Your child feels out of control and the behaviour is a way of feeling in control.

Be consistent

It’s essential to be consistent in disciplining, says Eva Burger, a counsellor based in Bellville, Cape Town. “Children can find it confusing if the rules or the consequences change in different situations, as when in public,” she explains. “Check children even if you’re right in the middle of a mall.”

You don’t have to feel embarrassed about disciplining your children in public. On the contrary, you’re teaching them that you’re keeping your word, Burger explains.

She says it’s important not to delay punishment too long, especially in the case of children younger than six.

“It’s important that kids know what they’re being punished for, so the consequences of misbehaviour must be implemented straight after the misbehaviour occurs.”

If you don’t want to make a scene in front of other people, take your child aside, Bush suggests. “There’s no point embarrassing yourself or your child. It’s destructive and you want to break the negative behaviour cycle, not perpetuate it.

Discuss the rules first

“It’s often a good idea to set the rules before you go out in public,” Burger says. “This allows your child to know that their actions will have consequences and they know what the consequences are.

“Children generally respond well to being given a clear plan of what’s going to happen at the supermarket or the restaurant,” Bush says. “It gives them the idea that you’re in charge and they know what’s expected of them and what might happen.”

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