Do you know what to do when your child misbehaves in front of others? See the one mistake you may not even know you’re making.
The lady, the boy, me… we all wished we were somewhere else, not caught in this moment. Everyone stood on edge—except the father.
“No. Come back here. You need to apologize to this lady,” the father said to his son, about seven-years-old.
I was at Target, alone (hallelujah!), in the baby aisle when this scene played out. The boy had bumped into this other lady and kept going, oblivious to having hit her on accident. The dad, meanwhile, wasn’t too happy about that.
So he made his son apologize to the lady. And he still wasn’t happy when his son mumbled his “I’m sorry.” No, he wanted the apology said out loud.
Meanwhile, the lady kept saying “It’s okay” and trying to brush it off. Probably to get on with her shopping instead of standing here being privy to a parenting lesson.
The dad kept insisting until he finally heard what he felt was a good enough apology before moving along.
First, a note: I don’t even think the boy “misbehaved” in the above scenario. I say “misbehave” to mean any behavior your child does you’re not too pleased with. Forgetting to apologize isn’t misbehaving, but something the dad wanted to correct.
When your child misbehaves in front of others
Our kids will misbehave, make mistakes, forget to say sorry and all that. In front of strangers and even loved ones and people they know. And when they do, parents, please don’t do this:
Discipline them in front of others
Discipline should be a private conversation
I can see why parents would want to discipline their children right away, even in front of strangers.
We could feel embarrassed about their behavior and want to make sure others know we don’t tolerate it. We want to use the opportunity to tie in a teachable moment before our kids forget and don’t want others to see us as the parent who lets things fly.
Or maybe we’re used to addressing it right away at home that we forget we have an audience with others around.
Thing is, discipline in front of others is humiliating for your child. It’s bad enough for him that he did something he shouldn’t have or forgot to do something he should’ve. Now he’s put on public display.
He probably won’t learn right then and there
Having an audience makes it more unlikely your child won’t learn a lesson at that moment. He’s more concerned with saving face or brushing aside embarrassment. He doesn’t want to be on the spot.
Any chances of this being a “teachable moment” pretty much has to wait until you’re alone with him.
It’s awkward for others to witness
Not only did the seven-year-old feel uncomfortable, but so did the lady and even me. Yes, our intentions to correct our child’s behavior and apologize to others are noble. But forcing him to do so just makes it more awkward for everyone else.
What to do instead when your child misbehaves in front of others
Whether bumping into someone or being outright rude, you should correct your child’s behavior. But not right then and there, and not with an audience. For instance, what could the dad have done instead of forcing his child to say sorry?
He could’ve apologized on his child’s behalf and move on.
You’re not letting your child “off the hook” by not making him apologize. If your child is so young you’re reminding him to say sorry, then you’re better off apologizing for him. At least for now.
Then later, in private, tell him what happened. Acknowledge his excitement in showing you the cool toy he found. Point out that he had bumped into the lady on accident. And explain that when that happens, it’s best to apologize.
And the best part? He’ll be way more receptive to listen and understand when it’s just you and him. Not with a bunch of other people within earshot.
Regardless of your intentions with disciplining your child in front of others, it’s best not to do so. Don’t force him to say sorry or correct his behavior right then and there. Don’t lecture or bust out the parenting skills.
Instead, apologize on his behalf and discuss it in private. And save everyone—your child and others around—from any more awkward moments.
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Get more parenting tips:
- How to Discipline a Child: The Ultimate List of Resources
- 15 Principles on How to Parent Effectively
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
- How to Get Your Child to Listen to You
- How to Be the “Bad Guy” and Still Parent Effectively
Tell me in the comments: What would you do if your child misbehaves in front of others?
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