As parents we have all had a tired toddler who hit his limit while out shopping or an excitable preschooler who just wanted to get his way. The next time you take an outing, try some of these tips to make the outing enjoyable for everyone.
1. You probably know when your child is on the verge of a tantrum or outburst. If you see it coming, get up and leave with your child before things really escalate. Try to sit next to the aisle if you're at a seated event so you don't have to climb over people to make a quick escape.
2. Bring a special bag of quiet toys to keep your child occupied. Your child might be able to sit quietly for part of a public event, but it might be tough for him to sit through an hour-long concert or service. A coloring book, Etch-A-Sketch, or a felt board are all great toy options.
3. Practice whispering. This may sound basic, but sometimes toddlers just don't know how to whisper. You can use a hand puppet to demonstrate outside voice, inside voice, and whisper voice.
4. Set expectations ahead of time and make it fun. Talking to your kids about the event you're going to, getting them excited, and explaining why it's important to be respectful might help make them be more attentive and engaged.
5. When taking your kids to a public venue like church, a restaurant, or an outdoor concert at a park, the first line of defense is to make sure it is an age-appropriate situation. Second, set the expectations for what is acceptable behavior. Third, tell your children in advance what the consequences are for being disruptive in public. Finally, be prepared to follow through even if it means removing yourself and your child from the situation.
6. Empower your child to make good choices in public. When it comes to a power struggle, allowing them to be in control of the outcome can be quite liberating. Be specific about the behavior you expect. For instance, when sitting in church, tell them not to kick the back of the pew in front of you. If that specific behavior happens, ask if they would like to stop or go to the nursery. If they act out again, remove them from the worship center.
7. When eating out at a restaurant, take plenty of things to keep your tot entertained. When feasible, choose a family-friendly place to dine at and pack a bag of coloring books, puzzles, and small toys to keep them occupied. Let your child know that if he is well-behaved, he can choose which dessert they would like to eat. If your kids get overwhelmed with too much activity, try dining outside of busy service times.
8. If your child chooses to act out in a public venue, remain calm. Try to use "when, then" statements, such as "When you calm down, then we can talk about what is upsetting you and find a solution" or "When you act out, then we have to cut our time short and go home." Use a tactic like counting down from 10 to help them regain their composure so you can reason with them and help them feel better. Take them to the lobby or the restroom to gain some privacy and allow other customers to enjoy their experience.
9. When your child acts out in public, be clear about the behavior you want to see and do not focus on the current negative behavior you want to stop. If your child is jumping on the booth seat and annoying the customers next to you, say, "Please sit on your bottom and face forward," instead of, "Stop jumping on the seat." Be calm and respectful when making your request. Make sure to give your request only once so your child is used to obeying the first time.
10. When in public, avoid giving your child negative attention during a temper tantrum. This will only prolong the event. Give an immediate consequence for not behaving appropriately. Acting out can often just be the desire to be the center of attention. If you respond positively, this will help defuse the situation.
When kids act out in public, parents often feel tense and frustrated. Kids will react to those emotions and the situation can escalate. Remember remaining calm, cool and collected will help defuse the situation. Keep an activity bag in the car so you're always prepared for an impromptu outing. Setting behavioral expectations in advance, empowering them to make appropriate choices and praising them when they do well will help change negative behaviors into positive ones over time.
Jennifer Chung, a parenting expert and co-founder of Kinsights: part parenting community, part online health record. Connect with Kinsights at Kinsights.com.