Should You Discipline Your Child in Public?

If you discipline your child in public, avoid yelling and teasing. This is hurtful and offensive and will escalate the conflict. Learn more.
Should You Discipline Your Child in Public?
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 31 October, 2023

If you ask a parent what situations they dread the most, many are sure to mention when their children have temper tantrums in public. Suddenly, a walk in the park or a visit to a shopping mall can turn into a moment of tension and stress. Then the question arises, “Should you discipline your child in public?”

Sometimes, the parent’s reaction is out of proportion compared to the problem itself. With that in mind, keep reading to find out if you should discipline your child in public and, if so, how best to do it.

Is it right to discipline your child in public?

The answer to this question is yes. Are you surprised?

Yes, you should put a limit on your child’s inappropriate behavior in public. Now, it should be clear what we mean by discipline. Discipline isn’t about yelling, humiliating, or embarrassing a child, whether it be in public or in private.

On the contrary, discipline involves education and learning, which begins long before a public outing. It’s about making them respect rules that are previously known and agreed upon.

In this regard, if you’re going to make plans, it’s best to let your child know ahead of time what you’ll be doing, how you expect them to act, which behaviors are allowed, and which are not. This undoubtedly helps to give them some security and predictability.

Finally, one more reason why it’s important to discipline your child in public: The undesired behavior is happening at that very moment . If you wait until you get home, they may not understand.

You might be interested in The Top 5 Tantrum Triggers in Children

Keys to disciplining your child in public

Here are some tips for intervening positively when your child misbehaves in public.

Try to get down on their level

If it’s a young child, one way to get their empathetic attention is to get down on their level. It’s like trying to create a “one-on-one” situation rather than making it look like someone “superior” is giving orders.

What does this mean? That you should bend down, look them in the eye, and explain that what they’re doing is inappropriate and why they shouldn’t do it.

Remember the rules

Because you’ve established the limits beforehand, you can point out to your child what you agreed on and what the consequences are for non-compliance. Don’t expect your child to know that they’re doing something wrong without first explaining it to them.

Speak in a calm but firm manner

Yelling isn’t necessary in order to achieve respect. Maintaining a warm and loving bond provides a better context for learning. What’s more, if you yell or put your child down, you could create a situation that your child may still look back on with resentment in the future.

Ask what they need and empathize

Helping them identify what’s wrong will give you the master key to give them what they need. Once you know, show that you understand and propose an alternative plan.

For example, if your child wants a sweet soda but you don’t allow them to drink it during the week, you can say, “I understand that you want a soda, but remember that during the week, we don’t usually drink them. How about we write this wish down on a piece of paper so we can fulfill it on the weekend?”

What to avoid when trying to discipline your child in public?

There are also some actions to avoid if you want your child to learn.

Comparing them to other children

For example, if you’re at a children’s birthday party and your child misbehaves, avoid putting them in a situation of inferiority with respect to other children. It’s very common for us to do this by saying things like “Look how well so and so is behaving! But you’re being disobedient.”

These comments aren’t only unconstructive, as they don’t lead to the desired behavior, but they can even be hurtful as well. Think about how you would feel if your boss in a team meeting embarrassed you by comparing you to a colleague. You would feel bad, wouldn’t you? Then avoid doing it to your child as well.

Yelling or violence

If you want to stop inappropriate behavior, violence is never the way to go. Abuse and violence don’t educate but rather prepare children for defense. Moreover, they generate resentment. In this state, a child isn’t in a position to “restrain” themself. Rather, their anger anger will only escalate even more.

Ridiculing the child or teasing

Teasing is very offensive and, in a way, it’s also an abuse of power on the part of the adult. As for the use of sarcasm, in general, children don’t understand it and, therefore, it’s not effective.

Saying “yes” to what you always say “no” to

In order to resolve the conflict as soon as possible, it’s easy to give in to the temptation to let your child have their way. For example, using your cell phone during a meal. This sends a confusing message that will be difficult to correct . However, if you go to lunch with your friends and your child accompanies you, it’s logical that they’ll get bored. Therefore, the best thing to do is to bring a toy to keep them entertained.

Know to anticipate what’s going to happen ahead of time

When they’re young, adults function as interlocutors of their children’s needs. They learn to decode their gestures, the meaning of each cry, etc. “He’s just sleepy”, “he’s just hungry”… these are some of the phrases that mothers and fathers often say when explaining what’s happening to their children. And it’s true, they’re part of the most frequent causes of an emotional outburst.

This is because children still have to go down the long road of growth and emotional development. This involves them being able to identify what they’re feeling and whether they need to ask for help to resolve it. Temper tantrums are, in fact, a means of expression.

That’s why you need to know your child to be able to identify when they’re reaching their limit. This way, you’ll be able to act sooner and avoid triggering a conflict.

When disciplining, put yourself in their place

Think about this situation: You’ve been running errands all morning, shopping, visiting grandma, walking with the pet. Around noon, you have one last thing to do: Pick up an order from the store. Perhaps, at first glance, it’s convenient to do this now, as the store is on your way home. But if you think for a moment, it might not be as convenient as you think because it’s lunchtime, your child hasn’t eaten anything, and you’ve been out and about for several hours.

What decision do you think you should make? On the one hand, you could stop and buy something to momentarily satisfy their hunger. On the other hand, you might decide to return home. The answer will depend on what you think your child can tolerate.

Finally, it’s also important to be able to detect your own emotional states. If you’ve had a difficult day and your child insists on going to the park, before you say yes, stop and think.

You may want to suggest another plan rather than taking them and getting angry about situations that, at another time, wouldn’t bother you. Respecting yourself and knowing your “tolerance threshold” will allow you to be consistent when applying discipline and will help you to take care of your bond with your child.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Siegel, D. y Payne, T. (2015). Disciplina sin lágrimas: una guía imprescindible para orientar y alimentar el desarrollo mental de tu hijo. Ediciones B.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.