What is the recommended thing to do when my kids are misbehaving in public?

For instance, I have had situations where they are yelling and throwing stuff in a restaurant, or the other day they one was pulling the other one's hair and hitting him on a store. I've usually taken them to the car and put them on their seat while I myself sit on the front, but I'm not sure this is working as well as time-outs at home.

Are there some special techniques for time-outs in public places? Or should I be doing something completely different?


8 Answers 8


If we're shopping or at a restaurant with our son and he starts acting up, he's taken immediately to the restroom and spoken to first, if he can't behave after that, we pay to have the food taken home with us.

If we're shopping and he does it, one of us takes him directly outside and speaks to him while the other finishes up shopping and pays for it.

He's learned that he's got one 'freebie' and after that, all the fun stops and we go home - and he gets ready for bed, regardless of what time it is (he doesn't GO to bed if it's early afternoon, but he knows that means no going outside to play, etc).

Today he acted up while in the dr's office. I had him stand in the corner for 3 minutes while the doctor and I spoke about his possible ear infection (he doesn't have one). Then I had no issues going out shopping with him or riding the bus back home.

Generally speaking I count to 3 and Matthias knows he needs to do whatever he's been asked to do - or if he doesn't understand what is wanted of him to ask what is wanted - or he must stand or sit in the 'naughty chair' which is positioned near the corner.

Be firm, be consistent and TELL them why they're being put in the car, corner, time out.

Edit: I should also add that my son just turned 3 in May.

  • 2
    +1 to everything you said except the "count to 3" part. If I tell my toddler to (not) do something, and I know she's heard and understood me but still doesn't obey, she's already in trouble. My thinking is that there are plenty of situations where a 3 count could be the difference between life or injury/damage/death; and I don't want my little one to ever think she can wait to obey me, for her sake. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 20:33

Its important to have a policy that you can enforce quickly and surely wherever you are. Make it as much like home as possible, and to hell with the glares of other shoppers as you calmly leave the shopping cart behind and drag your child to the car for a time-out (for a small child throwing a tantrum), or whatever your policy is.

Make sure they lose something they want. In my case if I had to leave a restaurant due to behavior they wouldn't get a bite of that food later. Its a sacrifice for the family but worth it.

Don't be embarrassed as being embarrassed will give the child more power and control than the child is due.

  • 3
    I would add to the don't be embarrassed concept. Never make parenting decisions based on your feelings of embarrassment. Do what is best for the child. Sometimes that will be embarrassing sometimes it will help alleviate the embarrassment.
    – Paul Cline
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 14:58
  • 1
    Do what is best for the child regardless of your feelings. Right on. Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 16:07

When dealing with a misbehaving child in public remember that it is basically your responsibility to civilize them by taking them into public where they will misbehave and then correct them. Reasonable people (the public) understand this.

  • Expect children to misbehave in public and expect to correct them. The more exposure they have to both experiences the more places you'll be able to enjoy.
  • Expect children also to have moments of good behavior in public and thank them, reward them, and let them know how much you like them when they behave.

Some ideas that come to mind:

  • Set an example.
  • Communicate expectations before going to a new place and remind when going to someplace familiar.
  • Practice at home.
  • Ignore minor bad behavior as much as possible to avoid rewarding it with attention.
  • Enthusiastically praise good behavior
  • Time outs (alone time for 1-3 mins) are difficult because the calming effects of time out are often associated by the child with a location in the home.
  • With a tantrum, try to remove the child from the immediate circumstance, let them calm down (for example don't start yelling at them) and then reinforce the expected behavior. Unfortunately, tantrums are normal.

Difficult things for children:

  • At restaurants children have to wait much longer than they expect to get food; try ordering their food immediately.
  • After a meal children have short patience for sitting at the table with nothing to do; cut after dinner chit chat short and bring activities (try out table toys at home after dinner).
  • Sitting in a shopping cart with nothing to do while all manner of new objects stream past them; bring toys, activities, etc.
  • I came across this game that might help with going to a restaurant. homepage.mac.com/mediagroupct/learn_play/play-pages/… If the link fails search for "Learning through Play for School Readiness"
    – Paul Cline
    Commented Jul 21, 2011 at 20:19
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    Necrocommenting here, but I about fell over laughing when I read "Reasonable people (the public)"... I know a completely different "public", lol! Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 2:43

I do the car thing as well, but if it keeps up in the car we just end up going home, nothing else and my son knows he'll be lacking a few things once we get back to the house. I regularly take toys to a time out, or remove what few TV privileges there are if he misbehaves. I like the car because it removes him from the public eye, where he sometimes wants to embarass us, or thinks he does. I don't bother with freebies, while its nicer when they are younger once he reached age 4 I tell him he needs to act better, and should be a little more controlled. If he is tired, or its been a long day I am more understanding, but if its out of nowhere then there are consequences.


Since you asked, "or should I do something completely different" I'm going to offer the idea of no longer using time outs and instead figure out consequences that fit or natural consequences. I never used time-outs so this is the best idea I can offer.

I am going to assume you have considered what your children are actually capable since you are comparing behavior at home with behavior out of the home and saying they can do what you are expecting while at home. @ChristineGordon offers the prerequisite "preparations" that help kids be successful because it sets them up for success in the first place. If the behavior is still a problem, here is a natural consequence that will speak volumes.

For example, if your kids can't go out to eat without throwing food or pulling hair, the next time there is a chance to go out and have some fun get the child a really boring baby sitter and say, "sorry can't trust you to use good manners and I don't want to be embarrassed again."

There are likely to be tears, "I know its really a bummer - we will miss you so much. This must be so sad for you, but you've shown me I just can't take you." Then, walk out the door. You've expressed empathy, but don't lecture, don't discuss, just leave.

After you get home (even the next day will work with anyone 4 or older), discuss it. "I know you were really sad you couldn't join us last night - so was I. I am willing to listen if you have any ideas about how you can show me you can use good manners even when we are out."

Your child has now suffered the natural consequence of having missed out so this is not a negotiation about the consequence, this is showing them how to brainstorm how to "fix" or at least make up for a mistake they've made - an important life skill.

I'd be willing to bet your child will be motivated to show you he/she is able to venture out with you again. Of course, you have to make sure going out is fun and the baby sitter isn't for it to work.


They always do know how to push our buttons with the best/worst timing, don't they? :)

I think there are things to do to prevent this situation.

(I have no idea what age your child is, so modify as necessary)

Can you give him a role to play in the outing like carrying the shopping list, counting the money, checking off the list, etc?

Is the trip appropriately lengthy for his age?

Do you give him limited choices like which store to go to first or which restaurant or which toothbrush to buy, etc?

Are your expectations of what "being good" looks like realistic and age-appropriate?

Are your expectations that he can ask what he doesn't understand age-appropriate?

Have you communicated clearly the plan for the day, ie "Today we need to buy groceries and then shoes for daddy."

I think it is important for kids not to feel like they're just being dragged along. Inviting them to participate in the activity can both alleviate this kind of scenario, and be an opportunity for practicing sorting, letter and number recognition, sequencing, etc.

When I teach parenting classes, one of the activities is a role-play of this exact scenario that allows parents to experience it from the perspective of the toddler! Being dragged along is no fun for anyone, even in a role-play scenario. Often the parents have an "aha!" moment when they next experience what it's like to have the above techniques applied, and they find that even in the role play they are much more 'compliant' and happy to participate!

I'm not advocating that every outing be about comforting the child, but I am suggesting to consider his experience of the same scenario. You may find yourself in this scenario a lot less if you do.


Any place can be the naughty step. I have used the vegetable aisle in waitrose, and many other places; ostensibly, the naughty step is somewhere for them to reflect, I believe, on what they have done, so where it is doesn't matter.


Immediate consequences are important. I stop right where we are. Sit on the floor and tell them my lap is your time out chair. You may have to move to the side of the aisle in the store. so people don't trip over you.

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