How to Parent in Public

Parenting when others are watching can be nerve-wracking, but a lot of those onlookers want to share advice, not pass judgment.
child in toy store

Ericka McConnell

One kid is dangling dangerously off your grocery cart. Another is pulling cracker boxes off the shelves. Your list has gone missing, the whining is growing noticeably louder, and you're beginning to yell in that way that announces, "Mother of the Year in Aisle 5!" Parenting when others are watching can be tough, but it might help you to know that the grocery-store clerk is actually on your side. Same with the waiter, the flight attendant, and the nurse. Because of their jobs, they've seen nearly every child antic and tantrum you can possibly imagine. And it turns out that if you promise anonymity, they'll share some pretty great coping tips.

From the grocery-store manager:
"A grocery store can be a fascinating place for kids -- if you frame it that way. I have one customer who brings his 4-year-old with him and he narrates as they shop, 'Wow, look how many types of eggs there are -- white, brown, organic, cage-free.' Or, 'This is a poblano pepper -- it's good for frying.' His daughter may not retain all of the information, but she never gets fussy. If you're faced with interminable whining, instead of repeatedly promising, 'We'll be outta here in five minutes,' put your child in charge of picking up a couple of simple items -- the milk with the blue label or the cereal in the orange box. A mini grocery list of his very own takes his eyes off the exit sign and makes him feel important."

From the kids' clothing-store owner:
"Don't give your little ones too much power. I have moms who come in with their 2-year-old and say to her, 'Will you wear this?' If it's a comfortable piece of clothing (meaning loose with few or no zippers or snaps) in a color she likes (even if it's pink again), most likely she will wear it. To get your child to try something on, stay focused. For instance, if you're taking your grade-schooler to buy a party outfit, don't start adding jeans and tees to the dressing room. I've found that even a child who loves clothes will tire out after trying on three things. For the kid who generally hates to shop, call ahead to a small independent store and ask to have a couple of outfits in his size and favorite colors put aside. Most small businesses will be happy to do this."

From the children's hair cutter:
"To get a child to sit still during a trim, bring a favorite small toy or a board book for reluctant or nervous kids to hold in their hands. Knowing what to expect will help ease anxiety. If your child is really scared, play 'hair salon' beforehand at home. Use a bath towel as a cape and your fingers as scissors. You can even let her practice giving you a new hairstyle too."

From the toy-store owner:
"Avoiding the gimmes is a perennial issue. If you're with a toddler, be quick; it's hard for them to understand that they can't have everything. A short trip means less opportunity for your kid to notice all the fun toys. With older children, tell them up front the precise reason for the shopping trip, whether it's a reward for them or to get a birthday present for a friend, and exactly how many items you're going to buy. Then ask them to help pick something out in a certain price range. Concentrating on details and having a sense of empowerment will make them feel helpful and a bit more special.

I'll never forget one mother and her preschooler who came into our shop -- they picked out a doll to buy, but when the mother announced it was time to leave, the child ignored her once, twice, three times. So the mom said, 'You didn't listen, so now we're not getting the doll.' The child screamed as they left. I put the doll aside just in case they came back and, sure enough, they did a few days later. This time, when it was time to check out, the little girl walked right over to her mother's side, took the doll, and said, 'Thank you, Mommy.' It was impressive to witness such a change in behavior -- all because the mother didn't give in the first time."

From the nurse at the pediatrician's office:
"To best help prepare a child for a checkup, be honest about what's going to happen at the doctor's office! If your child asks if he's going to get shots, for example, don't lie -- because if you do, your child is more likely to get upset when the nurse or doc walks in to give an immunization. Another thing: Please don't ever, ever, ever threaten your kids with shots to get good behavior out of them. It's shocking how often I overhear parents in the waiting room say, 'If you don't stop that, I'm going to tell the nurse to give you a shot.' Obviously I know that parents just want their kids to behave well, but turning doctor's visits into a punishment only makes the office that much scarier the next time."

It Worked For Me: Genius Discipline Tricks
It Worked For Me: Genius Discipline Tricks

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