We have all done it. You’re about to have company over, and you sit down with the kids using your best finger wagging – explaining to them that you ‘expect them to behave!’ Or the grandparents from Wisconsin are finally coming to visit and in your best efforts to prove to them what stellar parenting you have doing you threaten or bribe the kids into ‘being on their best behavior.’ This same style of fear-based parenting also comes into play if you are walking into a swanky restaurant, going to a school play or any other event that causes your children to be seen in public. Why? Because the last thing you want to be seen doing is correcting your children in public.
Sadly, honestly and ironically children aren’t always on their best behavior when mom and dad want them to be. And there is nothing worse than being embarrassed in front of friends, co-workers, or even perfect strangers by your child misbehaving. Plus, it forces you to showcase your parental skills and reveal the salt worth of your parenting endeavors. You cannot just sit back and ignore it, especially when everyone around you is giving you those judgmental eyes of disapproval. But how to proceed? If you were at home alone you would resort to your normal parenting techniques of either throwing up your hands and raising your voice or dragging your child by the hand to your chose time out spot, which really serves no purpose except for to give YOU some breathing room. Plus, you couldn’t dare spank your child in the presence of others, don’t want to be heard cursing and definitely don’t want to be seen by others as a tyrannical parent that is suppressing your child’s ‘inner self.’
The other thing of course, is that the sensitive side of parenting doesn’t dare want to do something that will embarrass the child. God forbid, they were embarrassed too, right?
So you are left with the question. How should you correct your children in public?
The first thing that you must do, even before they show your guest how to light their farts on fire is set the ground rules. If you are having company at your house, or are going out it is very important to make sure your child have very clear boundaries. Sit down with them, sans the finger wagging and explain to them what will and what won’t be tolerated. You may even want to set some early consequences. Additionally, it is important to explain why rough housing, inaudible levels of conversation and building towers out of wine glasses are not acceptable. Use words like, responsible and respect so that your child understands that there is a time and place for misbehavior in life, but that tonight is not the place or the time. And yet, you also have to make sure that your child doesn’t see the upcoming event as something ominous that they dread. So make sure you explain to them what they CAN do, and how they CAN have fun.
Another great idea is to come up with a sign that you can use to communicate with your child BEFOREHAND, so you can give them a warning without being forced to actually correct them in public. Make it something simple, but be clear that if the sign is given, they need to stop whatever it is they are doing. This is actually a good system to use for any public activity you embark on with your child whether it is a day at the Spray Park or dinner out with friends.
Now that you have set the groundwork, and have the sign in place it is time to quite simply say a prayer and expect the best. Chances are your child is going to act up in some way. This is the nature of the beast when you are dealing with children. When they do, instead of trying to be the big man on campus that comes across as the parent of the year take your child to a private place and talk to them. Go over the ground rules once again, and explain to them that it is important to you, that they follow the rules. You can even ask them how they would feel if YOU picked YOUR nose in the presence of their friends.
Whether you are going out, or whether your children are the ones having friends over this same method should be used. Many children, in addition to misbehaving during important parental moments also manipulate their parents when they are with their friends. As your children get older, you will notice that they sort of count on the fact that mom and dad are going to let things slide when they are hosting a slumber party. Essentially, you should follow the same rules when correcting your children in front of their social mates. However, you also need to explain to your child that hanging out with friends is a privilege, one that you can take away at any minute. Make sure that your child realizes that THEY ARE IN CHARGE of not only their behavior, but the behavior of their friends as well. This keeps them responsible. And while you don’t want to chastise or yell at your child in front of his or her friends, there may be a point when the misbehavior is so intense, that you are left with no choice. Plus, this momentary feeling of embarrassment in front of peers can definitely drive your message home.
Bottom line, in public your discipline techniques should be scaled down. However, as a parent it is most important to set the precedent, expectations, and boundaries ahead of time so your child is very clear about the ground rules. And while you may feel awkward having to correct your child in the presence of your friends or his or her friends, chances are high that at some point you will be forced to do so. Make sure that after the fact, your child understands what they did wrong, and your reasons for ’embarrassing’ them.