3 Tips on How to Parent in Public

3 Tips on How to Parent in Public

It isn’t always easy to parent in public but it’s essential. I can remember the days when our children were young, and my wife would come home from grocery shopping rattling off the list of infractions our children were guilty of while in the store. The list often included misdemeanors (or misbehaviors) like arguing with each other, complaining about not getting what they wanted, and failing to stay where they were told.

Most parents know the feeling of embarrassment and frustration of having young children with you in a public setting. I’ve had multiple parents tell me over the years that their young children are the reason they seldom go out to eat, or why they choose not to attend public functions.

As parents, we all know that there are times when our children act in ways that make us wish we had some invisible spray so that we could crawl out of public without being seen. Let’s be real… Very few things can cause as much stress and apprehension as a parent going into public places with their young children. Why? Because kids are often unpredictable, embarrassing, and yes, disobedient.

So does this mean that parents should just go into a deep dark parenthood hibernation for 2-3 years until these stages of public humiliation pass? (That would be nice.) But, no.

I truly believe that if done right, the hardest years to parent are the years between ages 2-5. (If you’re still being embarrassed by your preteen or teenage kids’ behavior in public, well… that’s another post for another time. Lol.)  I can remember that especially through those early years we had to put some boundaries and practices in place to make sure that our intentional plans were succeeding in public, rather than our children’s impromptu plans.

Here are a few of the things we learned about how to parent in public:

Be Preventative

One of your goals as a parent is that your child’s behavior and responses to you in public are a reflection of how you have been training them in private. If discipline strategies are not first practiced and implemented at home, it’s unrealistic to think that they can be used successfully away from home.

Yes, there will be a season when correction and discipline will most likely have to take place in public, but the goal is that such correction is limited to a short period of time and simply an extension of what is already taking place at home.

It is impossible to expect something in public that you have not already enforced in private. 

One of the easiest ways to be preventative is to clearly explain your expectations in advance. For us, this simply looked like an eyeball to eyeball conversation with our young kids immediately prior to entering public places, whether that was at church, the store, or a restaurant, etc.

These conversations were simple. We gave them a specific explanation of what was expected, and we explained clear consequences if those expectations were not met. By doing this, we were both on the same page about the “rules of the rodeo” before entering into public places.

Be Prepared to Parent in Public

Especially in the early days, whatever the consequences were, they needed to be not only clear but immediate. For this reason, we would always keep a wooden spoon in our family minivan. When our children intentionally chose disobedience, or we had difficulty maintaining control, a quick trip to the van along with a personal session with “Woody” was life-saving. We were then able to allow tears to dry, hugs to be given, and enter back into public with no further issues.

After only a few times of doing this, we found that the majority of our issues in public were solved. (Whether at the store, eating in restaurants, or learning how to sit in church, this season was always shorter than a year, and often much less, with each of our kids.)

It’s no fun, but during this season, just get used to the idea of abandoned shopping carts and cold fast-food meals. They will usually still be there when you return :). Just remember in those difficult moments that your child’s character is far more important than your own convenience. Your future parenting efforts will thank you years from now.

Be the Parent in Public

The easiest thing for any parent to do when facing embarrassment in public is to either bury their head and simply turn a blind eye to their child’s misbehavior/manipulation or give in to their child’s actions or attitudes to pacify them temporarily and ‘save face’ as a parent.

However, the hardest thing for any parent to do when such public displays of misbehavior arise is the one thing they should do – be the parent and lovingly, yet firmly, deal with the situation.

I am not suggesting that you grab a banana and bend your child over your leg right there in the produce aisle, but I am suggesting that you do whatever is necessary to calmly and consistently maintain control and authority with your child, leaving no doubt in their mind that they are not the ones in control, and their actions are unacceptable. Be the parent they need and deserve.

Let me encourage you with this reminder… Don’t feel bad for your kids being kids in public. It’s okay. It’s normal. But don’t feel intimidated out of being the parent and dealing with your child’s misbehavior when it’s necessary, because ignoring the problem will not correct it, but increase it.

Not only will your kids thank you someday, but you will also have multiple other parents secretly and silently cheering you on from the aisles.

This article about how to parent in public originally appeared here.

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Andrew is a husband, the father of four awesome kids, and a children's pastor at a thriving church. He is passionate about intentional parenting and helping other parents and leaders effectively reach the next generation. He blogs about kids and family at AndrewScottLinder.com, and provides proven resources for VBS and children's ministry at KidzBlast.com.