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Behavior in Public Places: Teach Your Child Good Behavior


Taking children to restaurants and grocery, discount, and department stores can be both fun and educational.

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.

  • Tell your child where you are going and what you will and won’t be doing. Set behavior expectations.
  • Training trips should not last more than 5 to 15 minutes in the store or restaurant. Keep visits brief rather than spending a lot of time browsing.
  • Choose a time when the store or restaurant is not very busy.
  • Make rules clear before you leave home, as matter-of-factly as possible. Go over the rules again right before you enter the "training area." Some suggestions for rules include:

    a. Stay with Mom or Dad. Do not walk alone.

    b. Do not pick up or touch things without permission from Mom or Dad.

    c. We are not going to buy anything on this trip.

  • Give your child a lot of brief, nonverbal, physical contact (at least once every minute or half-minute) for good behavior. Occasionally praise your child, saying, for example, "Mike, you sure are being good," "You're staying right next to Mommy," or "Thank you for not picking up any candy." Make it a positive experience.
  • Maintain frequent physical contact with your child. Touch him gently on the back, rough up his hair, or briefly give him a hug, pulling him next to you.
  • Plan a fun activity such as going to the park or watching a movie together after the successful outing.

General Guidelines

  • Involve your child in the activity as much as possible. You could give your child a list and have her carry it as your “helper.” Have her 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." Don't forget to say "please" and "thank you" when appropriate.
  • 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?" or "All fruits have a skin or cover on them to protect them from rain and bugs."
  • Lots of physical contact, praise, teaching, and pleasant conversation help keep your child interested in the trip. By actually helping you, he will learn that stores are a fun place to visit.
  • If your child breaks one of your rules, immediately make her sit in "time-out." This can be any place that is generally out of the normal flow of foot traffic. In a grocery store, you can just point to one of the tile floor squares and firmly tell your child to sit on that square because she walked away from you. In a restaurant, you can turn your child's chair around. If the restaurant is not very crowded, you can place your child on another chair about 3 to 4 feet away from you. As soon as your child is quiet for about half a minute, tell her that it is OK to get up or to turn her chair back to the table.
  • 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.
  • Remember, praise and attention, along with discipline, are the tools for teaching your child. Discipline alone will not work. Using praise and attention with discipline will work to make your trips to stores and restaurants much more enjoyable for both of you.
  • Be consistent. Straying from your training one time could ruin months of successful trips.

Written by E. Christophersen, PhD, author of "Little People: Guidelines for Commonsense Child Rearing.".
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-30
Last reviewed: 2010-08-09

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 health care professional.

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