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How to Manage Your Kid’s Bad Behavior in Public

You might feel like you have your child’s behavior under control at home.  But when you go out in public, it’s a whole new ball game.  I know that’s been my personal experience at least.

Kids eventually find out that they can get away with more in certain public places.  So they’re more likely to test the limits when in public.  Plus, there are a lot of outside influencers on their behavior and a lot more things to distract them.  So it makes sense that they may be less able (or willing) to control their behavior when they’re not at home.

Whatever the reason is that kids might misbehave more in public, it sucks as a parent to have to deal with bad behavior in public… especially if you’re an introvert like me and don’t like having attention drawn to you.

But here are some child therapist tips on how to prevent and reduce bad behavior in public so that you can feel confident that you’re doing the right things.

How to Manage Your Kid’s Bad Behavior in Public

First, practice behavior management strategies at home.

Make sure you know how to handle behavior problems at home first.  Then, practice using those behavior management strategies consistently.  Check out this behavior management system for more on how to do so.

Once you get used to using certain parenting strategies at home, you’ll feel more comfortable using them in public. Therefore, be sure to practice them a lot at home.

If possible, pull back on going out in public some until you feel more comfortable managing your child’s behavior in general.

Plan ahead.

Have a plan in place in terms of how you’re going to reward good behavior and enforce consequences for misbehavior before you go out. Also, be sure to bring with you any behavior charts or point charts you use.  And bring toys, snacks, and other necessities to help keep your child occupied and happy during the trip.

Want to learn more about using behavior charts, plus get some free behavior charts?  Grab my bundle below!

Before entering the public location, review expectations.

Review any relevant rules and expectations, as well as consequences, in the car or outside before entering the public location. Try to have your child state as much of the rules as possible on his own in order to be sure that he is listening.

Related post: How to Get Your Kids to Listen to You (And Do What You Say)

Keep your child engaged and occupied throughout the trip.

Keeping your child engaged will help to prevent boredom and misbehavior. Try to keep things fun, or at least keep your child busy. Give your child simple tasks in a fun way.  For instance, you could have your child be the navigator in the grocery store or play “I Spy” while standing in line at the bank.

Remember to have toys and engaging activities with you just in case you need them.

Praise and reward your child for good behavior throughout the trip and immediately after the trip.

Praise your child for good behavior continuously in order to keep him on the right track and to keep giving him attention.  Remember to be specific in telling your child exactly what he’s doing that is right.

If you’re using small rewards throughout the trip or after the trip, be sure to deliver them immediately after the good behavior.  That way, the rewards will have meaning and you won’t risk your child misbehaving before the reward is delivered.

Remind your child of expectations periodically.

Do this especially if you know that you’re getting to a point in the trip when your child usually misbehaves.  Also, be sure to state expectations in a direct and concise manner.

Be prepared to follow up with consequences if needed.

If you plan to use time-out as a form of discipline, be sure to scope out the public place for potential time-out spots. An alternative to finding a time-out spot in the public area could be to use your car as a time-out spot.

When in public, time-outs can be shorter. Just be sure that you’re choosing the amount of time beforehand, rather than giving in during the time-out or allowing your child to call the shots.

Another type of consequence could be the loss of a privilege.  Just be sure that the privilege is as closely related as possible to the misbehavior.

Another Tip

When trying to decide how to best manage a behavior in public, think about what your child is trying to get out of his misbehavior.   Then try to avoid giving your child what he wants because you want to teach your child that good behavior is more likely to get him what he wants.

For example, if your child starts acting out because he wants to leave the grocery store, then leaving the store right after the misbehavior might not be the best solution.  On the other hand, if your child is having a great time out in public but then starts to act out, then enforcing a time-out or leaving altogether would actually be an appropriate form of discipline.

Finally, remind yourself that even though other people may be observing you and your child in public, you know what’s best for your child and you’re doing the best you can.  And don’t worry about what others think or say.  (Oftentimes, the most vocal observers don’t have kids or forget what it’s like to have young kids).

I hope these tips help!  What do you do to prevent or manage your kid’s “bad” behaviors in public?




Disclaimer: Although I was a therapist, I am not your therapist or your child’s therapist. Reading this post does not enter you into a client-therapist relationship with me. The content in this post is meant to be used as a general guideline and has not been individually tailored to the needs of you and your child. If you are in need of therapeutic services, please seek the support of a mental health counselor or behavior specialist.

References: My information comes from years of training on Applied Behavior Analysis, Parent Behavior Management Training, and other evidence-based techniques. I also like to refer to Russell Barkley and Alan Kazdin.



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