Is Your Child a Public Menace?

Bad behavior is hard enough to deal with at home. But when it happens in a store or a restaurant, you need to think fast -- and keep it from happening again.

Public Spectacle 1

We all want our children to be at their very best when we're out in the world. But here's the hard truth: Kids will scream, disobey, hit, have meltdowns, and behave rudely no matter where they are (and it seems like the more public the setting, the more likely they are to act out). While there's no way to avoid these mortifying moments, you can minimize the embarrassment and set the stage for better behavior in the future. We'll help you deal with five tricky situations when all eyes seem to be watching.

The "Buy Me!" Blues

During a weekly grocery run, your 2-year-old spots the potato chips and shouts, "I want that, Mommy!" When you refuse to buy the chips, he starts shrieking at the top of his lungs. You're tempted to bail, but if you do you'll be eating ice cubes for dinner.

Quick fix. Distract your child (with a toy or a snack you've brought from home) long enough to gather the must-have items on your list. If he won't stop screaming, try asking him to help you pick out a can of soup or load the groceries onto the checkout belt. "The more he feels like part of the process, the more cooperative he'll be," says Robin Goldstein, PhD, author of The Parenting Bible. But if these tactics don't calm him down, hightail it with what you have to the express line, where a sympathetic shopper may take pity and let you cut ahead.

Long-term solutions. Pay attention to your child's typical mood pattern during the day, and schedule your shopping around it. Right before naptime is an obvious don't. "Little kids need to decompress after daycare too, so that's also not a good time to hit the store with them," says Michele Borba, EdD, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. Before you go into the store, lay out the ground rules. "When we go to the supermarket, I let my son, Jake, who's 3, pick out one item and hold it while we shop," says Randi Pellett, of Brooklyn. "If he behaves until we're done, he gets to keep it. But if he acts up, he has to put it back." Also keep your expectations realistic: Even at his best, a small child won't stay patient in a crowded store for an hour. Save major excursions for the weekend, when you can go on your own (or tag-team with your spouse).

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