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Behavior in Public Places: Teach Your Child Good Behavior

Taking your child to restaurants, stores, and other public places works best if you plan ahead.

Training Trips

To make trips to public places more enjoyable, start by taking some "training trips." These are short trips made for the purpose of teaching your child how to behave in public places. Going to a store can be a good place to start. Training trips should not last more than 5 to 15 minutes.

  • Choose a time when the store is not very busy.
  • Make rules clear before you leave home. Make sure your child understands what you want him to do. If you are not sure if your child knows what to do, ask him to repeat the rules. Go over the rules again right before you enter the "training area." Some suggestions for rules include:
    • Stay with Mom or Dad. Do not walk off by yourself.
    • Do not pick up or touch things unless Mom or Dad says it’s OK.
    • We are not going to buy anything on this trip.
    • No yelling. Use your “inside voice”.
  • Touch your child gently on the back, rough up his hair, or briefly give him a hug when he behaves well.
  • Praise your child when he’s doing what you want, for example, "You are doing the right thing by staying next to Mommy."

Plan a fun activity such as going to the park or watching a movie together after the training trip.

General Guidelines

  • Keep your child interested with lots of physical contact, praise, teaching, and talking with your child. Involve your child in the activity as much as possible.
    • You could give your child a list and have him carry it as your “helper.” Have him get groceries for you or place them in the cart. Give your child instructions, such as "Get me the green can, please," or "Bring me the bag of pretzels, please."
    • Talk to your child about what you are doing. For example, you might say, "We're going to make sloppy joes with this hamburger meat. You really like sloppy joes, don't you?"
    • This is also a good time to teach your child about his world. For example, "Bananas grow on trees. What else can you think of that grows on trees?"
    • Plan ahead. If you are going to a place where your child may need to wait for a bit, take along toys or favorite books. Keeping your child from getting bored may help prevent acting out.
  • If your child breaks one of your rules, give him a warning. If he still does not behave, immediately put him in "time-out", which is usually 1 minute for each year of age. This can be any place that is generally out of the normal flow of foot traffic. Many grocery stores have a seating area where you can spend time-out with your child. In other places, you might need to go outside or to the restroom for a time-out. In some cases, you may need to go to your car. Be calm and matter of fact, without raising your voice or threatening. For example, "I would like you to stop banging the chair. It's bothering the other people here. If you can't stop, we'll go out to the car for a time-out." If your child continues the behavior, calmly take your child by the hand or carry him to the car and start the time-out.
  • Be consistent. Straying from your training one time could ruin months of successful trips.
  • Stay calm. Your child is not trying to be bad. The lights, sounds, people and new things in public places, are exciting for your child and he may not be able to contain it.

Generally the better your child behaves at home, the better he'll behave in public. When you are having trouble in public, step up your efforts at home. If your child misbehaves in specific situations, you may want to avoid that situation until your child is a little older. Remember, praise and attention, along with discipline, are the tools for teaching your child. Discipline alone will not work.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-29
Last reviewed: 2014-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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