When your Academy Award contender acts out in public!


Dear Adele,

We need help! Our young son will soon be deserving of an Academy Award for his acting out behaviour in public! When we are out of the home, he seems to purposely decide to misbehave and act out, knowing we will not respond as skillfully as we normally do alone. And he is absolutely right! We admit that we often cave to his desires because we do not want to be judged by others as overly strict disciplinarians, harsh or inept parents. Please help us with some ideas on how to handle his acting out in public!

Mom of an Academy Award Contender


Dear Mom of an Academy Award Contender,

Take it easy on yourself Mom of an Academy Award Contender. Children of the best of parents act out in public sometimes. Yours is no exception. Unfortunately, when they do this, it destroys the confidence of the parents and leaves them feeling that they have somehow failed the children. Parents may think that others judge them as mean or stern or incompetent. If truth be told, most of us feel empathy for parents of the child who is acting out in public because most of us have been there with our own kids!

I have a couple of ideas which you can add to your repertoire for the next time this situation occurs. Some of them come from an article entitled “14 Tips for Parenting in Public”. Hopefully a few will be of assistance to you in this pretty common parenting challenge.

  • Stay calm, take a deep breath and slow down.
  • Ignore onlookers, focus on your child and say something like “He’ll be alright. He just needs a bit of space.”
  • Presume that onlookers are commiserating with you and supporting you. Assume they want your child to behave well. Best to let them see you empathize with a smile and a statement like “Everyone has a bad day, now and again!”
  • Move the child out of the situation to a more private place, if possible.
  • Tend to your child’s basic needs first for food, rest, movement, or the bathroom. Doing this in advance of your outing can preempt a lot of bad conduct. For example, schedule the outing after nap time and have a snack ready to share.
  • Involve the child from start to finish. Be sure he is well prepared for the outing. He should know what will be happening and what behaviour is expected from him. Let him help as much as possible. For example, in a store let him help pick the items off a shelf or give the money to the cashier.
  • Listen to the child and show empathy. For example, you might say ‘You seem pretty annoyed. What’s making you feel that way?” Or you might say “I know you really want to run and play. We should be out of the store in five minutes. Why not wiggle your toes and fingers instead of running?”
  • Redirect the child. For example, you might leave the setting and return later after a rest. You might reconnect with the child by giving him hugs and eye contact. Or you might alleviate the tension with a joke or some laughter which will create a more positive mood.
  • Acknowledge your child’s desires but stick to the limits, wait the child out and don’t give in.

Two good reads on this subject are ‘What to do when your kid acts out in public” by Malia Jacobson and ‘Acting Out in Public: Is your child’s behaviour holding you hostage?” by James Lehman. Both authors offer some explanations for this kind of comportment and additional strategies for dealing with your little one in public.

I will conclude with some inspirational quotations about children’s behaviour which might serve to inspire you, Mom of an Academy Award Contender.

Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it.”  — Harold Hulbert

A child seldom needs a good talking to as a good listening to.” — Robert Brault

Parents have become so convinced that educators know what is best for their children that they forget that they themselves are really the experts.” — Marian Wright Edelman

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

Photo: Austin Pacheco, Unsplash