How to care for your children when they misbehave in public

I am a volunteer public educator for the Child Abuse Prevention Council in our county and have taught children with severe behavior problems. I suggest the following:

Think prevention first. Try to make sure you and your children are well rested. It's not worth it to go out when either you or your children are tired, hungry or at the end of a long day. If you are planning to eat out, make sure you go to a place that is child-friendly. If necessary, take along a small amount of your child's favorite food.- Prepare your children. Sit down with your children and tell them about the plans. Describe what they will be doing and make sure your expectations are clear and understood. If they are old enough, let them have some say in the rules, and decide on rewards and punishments. Choose a signal that will let a child know he/she is breaking a rule.

Be consistent in following through with rewards and punishments. Look for opportunities to praise good behavior. If a child does not stop when given a signal that a rule is being broken, give one reminder. If the child continues to misbehave, follow through with the agreed-upon punishment. Do not embarrass a child in public.

Bring special treats with you. You can keep your young children busy with a quiet toy, a book or small snacks.

Remove the child completely, if all else fails. Most restaurants will box up leftovers so you can eat them later. Canceling an outing may be better than upsetting the whole family because of the misbehavior of one child. - Nell C. Folkman, Walnut Creek, Calif.

What we did:

No temper tantrums

How children behave in public depends a great deal on their behavior in the home. With my children, my husband wouldn't allow temper tantrums in the home, but he wouldn't discipline with force.

Translated to the public scene, our girls knew we were ready to leave whatever we were doing to remove them from the situation. If we were in a store and they acted up, we would leave, sometimes leaving the things we were going to buy. If we were in a theater, they knew we would leave in the middle of a movie if necessary.

One of the best techniques was "time out." If the girls really had a hard time behaving even after we removed them from the public arena, they would be sent to a chair in the corner, simply to think about what had happened. When the child came up with a solution to her problem, one that would prevent the problem from recurring, she was allowed to leave time out. Then the responsibility became the child's, instead of solely the parents. - Nadine B. Turner, Heber City, Utah

Be consistent

I have become increasingly concerned about the inappropriate ways adults deal with children when they misbehave in public. On three occasions recently my heart broke as I watched parents berate

and/or humiliate their children in public. As I thought about these episodes, I was grateful for good examples in my life. These examples include my wife, my parents and the Savior. From these examples, I have learned:

Communicate to your children the rules and your expectations with respect to their behavior. If possible, avoid situations and places that are not age-appropriate for your children.

Be consistent in enforcing the rules.

Always act out of love and respect for your children. Avoid acting out of anger.

Look for opportunities to praise and reinforce positive behavior in public settings.

Remember, our initial reaction to our children's behavior may either escalate or defuse the situation. - David W. Cook, Hilliard, Ohio

Guided by Spirit

The way we handle our children in public should not be significantly different than the way we handle them in the privacy of our homes. If the children are disciplined with love, then the setting for that discipline may not be so important. In fact, we might provide a good example to others if they see that we respond to a child's challenge in a loving, yet firm way.

Discipline cannot always wait until we get home. Younger children may forget what they did wrong by the time they get home. There are so many types of challenges parents are faced with that there can be no magic formula for handling each case. As with so many other things in life, if we can make our decisions as guided by the Spirit, we will always make the right choice. - Richard L. Ricks, Spring, Texas

Heat of the situation

In the heat of the situation, I try to remind myself of some of the reasons the children might be acting inappropriately, such as fatigue, boredom or hunger. Packing a snack, keeping the outing brief and a short diversion to do something they enjoy usually helps to keep them on their best behavior.

If a child is acting out of no apparent reason and is old enough to have a conversation with, I gently remind them that we are representing the Savior in all we do and all we say and ask them to think about what Jesus would have them to do. If none of the above remedies is effective, I take the child to a private place, such as the restroom, where I can have their full attention and they mine. For the younger children, a reward for good behavior is available, but a bribe is never offered in the thick of bad behavior. I try to remember the embarrassment that would be caused by a public rebuking for both the child and myself. - Laura Moldenhauer Kanar, New Port Richey, Fla.

`Time out'

The most common public misbehavior we deal with involves working with our daughter to help her stay quiet and calm during sacrament meeting. At those times when she chooses to go to "time out," it only takes a few minutes of sitting quietly on Mom's lap in the mother's room for our daughter to decide that she is ready to walk quietly back to sacrament meeting and remain quiet until the meeting is over. - Mick and Tamara Ilich, Grand Terrace, Calif.

Remain calm

The most successful way my husband and I have found to deal with our preschooler when she misbehaves in public is to remain very calm, act swiftly and speak soft (often a whisper in her ear) in a firm voice.

Frequently, after we have been out somewhere (especially if it has been for a long period), I will praise her for her good behavior and remind her of the nice time we had. The positive reinforcement seems to give her a sense of achievement and encourages her to behave well. This combination has resulted in her rarely being a problem when we are out in public. - Sarah Kunz, Irvine, Calif.

How to checklist:

1 Avoid anger, remain calm,

don't humiliate child; seek

guidance of Spirit.

2 Reward good behavior; don't

bribe during misbehavior.

3 Think prevention; shop when

children are rested, take

treats or appropriate toys.

4 Be consistent; follow through

when discipline is needed.

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Also interested in letters on these topics: "How to avoid greed," "How to make transition from being newly married to becoming new parents," "How to plan ahead for the different stages of life," "How to avoid the gambling trap."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2524 or use internet E-mail: Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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