Skip Nav

7 Tips for Disciplining a Preschooler in Public

7 Tips for Disciplining a Preschooler in Public

It's every mom's nightmare: your "adorable" child has a major meltdown at the grocery store, inviting stares and whispers or worse unsolicited parenting advice from strangers. As Circle of Moms members Jessica T. shares of her four-year-old, "it's so embarrassing when Grace starts acting up, yelling, screaming, crying, running away, and people just gawk at me."

Here, Circle of Moms members come to the rescue with seven smart tips for dealing with a preschooler who's misbehaving in public.

1. Know your child's triggers and plan ahead

Prevention is key. It starts, says Circle of Moms member Katherine C., with "eliminating the triggers" that are likely to bring on a tantrum or outburst. Kimberly W., for instance, has learned that timing is everything for her daughter: She only takes her shopping "after she sleeps and is fed, so she isn't tired and hungry."


Part of Katherine's planning involves deciding in advance how she will enforce discipline "if the child acts up" while they are out: "You want [a discipline plan] that can be used anywhere, and time-outs are good. Eye up the time-out spot immediately upon entering. It can be along a wall, a quiet corner or even in the car. A time-out is effective during times when the child is unable to control their behavior and needs time to cool down. Inform your child about what behavior you expect him to exhibit while you are out."


2. Communicate the ground rules before entering

Katherine also suggests telling your child what the rules are before you enter the mall, store, or library: "Tell him he must stay near [you], not run off, and to ask permission before touching anything. Tell your child the rules and the consequences if they are broken. Let him know it will be a time-out, revoking of a privilege, or leaving the store."

3. Bring distractions and snacks

"Busy makes for better behavior" is a tactic many Circle of Moms members can relate to. "I bring snacks" says Katherine C. "It's the only way my 2 and 6-year-old make it through the store."

4. Enlist your child's help

Make your child feel like he or she is part of the shopping team along with you, suggest several Circle of Moms members. "Give your child her own 'list,' pen, and paper, and ask her to help you with the shopping, letting her pick cereal, count apples, oranges etc.," says Kimberly W. "It takes longer but it makes it fun for her. Or include [your son] in the counting and show him the stuff you're getting."

Daniella is another mom who makes use of this tactic, which she says makes a routine errand feel like a special event to her daughter. She asks her daughter to help her make decisions as they move through the store: "'Which trolly will we take?' 'Do you want to push it or walk?' 'Can you get me some broccoli and put it in the trolly?'" 


5. Offer a reward for good behavior

Some might call offering your child a reward for good behavior in public is a form a bribery, but others say it's worth it if it works: "I used to let my daughter pick something at the beginning of each trip to the store," shares Bree S. "Typically something like strawberries or apples. I would explain to her that if she didn't behave we would leave them in the store. When she started acting up, we left. I would leave the cart wherever it was and we would leave the store, get in the car, and go home. Not only was I saving other people from having to listen to her shrieking (she's deafening, I assure you) but I was following through with what I had told her AND she was losing her special treat."

6. Strive to discipline the same in public as you would at home

An important rule about discipline is to only do at home what you would in public, to create consistency. As Circle of Moms members JuLeah W. explains, "You have to be consistent or your kids learn that they can act out in public and you aren't going to do anything about it. That's why hitting is not a smart idea. You shouldn't hit or scream at your kids at home and not in public either. Your kids will know how you are going to handle their behavior and that will give [them] a good idea what to expect if they misbehave."

7. Leave, but include a timeout and explain why

If all else fails, exit, say many Circle of Moms members. With a firm, you-can't-budge-me voice, tell your child that you're not changing your mind, then take her out," says Jodi A. "When my son was about 3 1/2, he threw the biggest fit while we were doing the grocery shopping. It reached a point where he started beating his head on the floor. Nothing worked. So I dumped my [cart], picked him up, and marched out of the store with him. I didn't speak to him, I didn't look at him, I just put him in his car seat, strapped him in, got in the car, drove him home, got him out of the car and took him inside. By this time, he had stopped, I think he was absolutely in shock. When I took him inside, I sat him down, and I told him that his behavior was unacceptable and I put him in time out. Honestly, he NEVER did it again. EVER."

What advice do you have for disciplining your child in public?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Latest Family