Teaching your kids to obey in public starts with teaching them to obey at home. Keep the standard high at home. That way they know what’s expected in public. It’s not fair to them to let them talk back, disobey, or disrespect things at home, and then get angry when they act the same way in public.
If they see you keep a low standard at home, and then suddenly see you raise the bar when your friends around, they are going to become confused and frustrated with you.
If you don’t want them to jump on the couch and throw things when you’re invited over to a friend’s house, don’t let them do that at home. If you don’t want them to run away from you in the grocery store, expect them to come each time you call them at home. And if you want them to respect you in public, shower love on them at home.
It’s true that even though you have a high standard at home, children will still push the limits in public. It’s almost as if they know that you are powerless to enforce your authority in isle 10 at Target. In that moment you could take them to a semi-private place to try to discipline them, like the bathrooms, or back to the car. But for me, I’m hauling 4 little ones every step of the way, so I try avoid as many detours as possible. So when my children misbehave in public, I will usually get down to their level, and quietly tell them their consequence in their ear. It may be a spank, a time-out, or a privilege taken away that will occur when we get home. My kids usually respond by loudly protesting their future repercussions. By that time, it’s more important to hold your ground than to keep them from embarrassing you. The objective is not merely to keep them quiet; it is to teach them respectful behavior.
For this method to work, they must believe you. And in order for them to believe you, you must follow through. When you get home, remind them of what they did wrong while in public, and give them the consequence. After a few times of practicing this, they will have more respect for your warnings.
The last time I had to do this, my 5-year-old’s behavior changed immediately. Even though she knew her impending judgment, she determined to not rack up any more negative points while we were out. Two hours later when we were driving home, she was the one reminding me that she needed a consequence when we returned.
Also, before you enter a public place, give your kids the low-down on what’s expected of them. Remind them what behavior is expected, prohibited, and what consequences will occur if they transgress your rules. Before entering a grocery store, I usually have a conversation with my kids that sounds like this:
“Okay everybody, we are going into the grocery store now. How are we supposed to act?”
“Be calm and obey,” they respond.
“Can we touch things that you see without permission?”
“Can you cry if you don’t get what you want?”
“What happens if you break the rules in the store?”
“We get spankings or time-outs.”
“How are you going to choose to act when we go in?”
“Be calm and obey!”
“That’s a good choice!” I affirm with a smile.
Your children long to please you. You can help them succeed in doing that by clearly outlining what is expected of them. And if your expectations are clear, you will be more confident in disciplining and rewarding your children.
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Proverbs 29:15