Children seem to have an in-built radar when it comes to behaving badly in public and tantrums can become an expected and feared event. Your child always seems to choose the worst time to lose it, leaving you red-faced and mortified, hoping a hole will open up to swallow both of you.
I have four children myself and have helped hundred of families wondering how to cope with children’s behaviour, so I know the ups and downs of toddlers only too well. Firstly you should know you are not alone in experiencing this behaviour. There are solutions to the emotional and physical reality of public tantrums and attention-seeking behaviour.
I’ve spoken with many parents who have experienced bad behaviour from their children when they take them out. Here are a few tips to combat bad behaviour in public:
• Praise and reward your child’s good behaviour when out so they don’t resort to being naughty to get your attention
• Keep trips out quick because children become bored easily
• React to bad behaviour in the same way in public as you would at home
• Set up ‘dummy shopping trips’ where you only buy a few items
These strategies make life easier to live with a toddler and cope when you want, or need, to go out in public with your child.
Why do children save their worst behaviour for public places?
Taking children shopping, out for a meal or to the doctor can be an exasperating experience for any parent. Children’s behaviour seems to get worse in public places for a variety of reasons. Adults might be too involved with the shopping list, or too busy chatting to their friend. Children learn from a very early age the best way to get an immediate reaction is to do something naughty. Parents who pay attention to bad behaviour, whilst ignoring the good behaviour, teach that bad behaviour earns a bigger pay off.
Shops are full of temptations for children and a ready audience to make their parents feel guilty or judged.
Another reason children behave badly in public places is they are bored. It is unrealistic to expect a four-year-old to remain quiet and focussed during a two-hour shopping trip, or even an hour for a coffee and gossip!
Children have limited experiences of learning how to behave in public. If they misbehave, it is likely their parents will become annoyed and embarrassed and may deal with the tantrum in a different way than they do at home. This teaches the child that public tantrums end with them getting what they wanted so as to avoid a fuss. Shops are full of temptations for children and a ready audience to make their parents feel guilty or judged. Therefore, they will do it next time they are out. Children are very fast learners!
What can I do to help my child learn to behave in shops?
Children need help to learn new skills, and it is vital that this is done in as relaxed a manner as possible. Set up ‘dummy shopping trips’, where you only buy six things. Explain to your child first that a new system is being introduced. The goal is to teach children new behaviour and reward it.
Let your child choose a reward, such as a bag of chips or a fruit smoothie, to have if they succeed. When your child behaves well, such as walking nicely, praise that behaviour, explaining exactly what pleased you. At the end of the aisle praise them again and give the child a token. Continue until you have your six items.
Once the items are purchased trade the tokens for the reward. This provides the opportunity for your child to learn the behaviour you want and, trip-by-trip, your shopping list gets longer and they are better behaved.
About the author
Laura Kiln (PgDip (CBT) (Child & Adolescence), BSc (Hons), RN, RM, RHV, NP, MHN) has more than 20 years experience in working with children, adolescents and their families and she is recognised internationally as an expert in the field of parenting. Laura established STAMP OUT to help parents and children. She uses a variety of techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy, workshops, groups and individual sessions.