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Q&A: Should I Discipline a Child in Public?

You can head off many explosions by letting a child know your expectations ahead of time.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

What should I do with a child who misbehaves at someone else’s house or at a party or in the supermarket? How do I discipline them right there in front of God and everybody?

Dennis and Barbara (in unison): You don’t. You really don’t!

Barbara: When our kids were young, one of the things that I did with them when I would take them to the grocery store is to talk to them before we even walked in the door. I would say, “We’re going to do the grocery shopping, and I am not going to buy you things that you want off the shelf. We will not buy candy and we will not buy gum. But if you are good and you obey and you allow me to do the grocery shopping, I will do something for you. We’ll go to the park or we’ll go for a walk or there will be some kind of reward.”

So by talking it through with them and letting them know ahead of time what to expect, it was much easier for them to comply.

Now that didn’t mean that they always did comply, because there were plenty of times that they would disobey or they would run around the corners to the next aisle and I couldn’t find them. I think you need to be prepared as a parent to drop your grocery shopping or quit your errands, pick your child up, and go out to the car to discipline him.

Your child is far more important than grocery shopping or errands. There were times when I’ve disciplined our children in the car or taken them home and then gone back to the store later, as inconvenient as it may seem.

Dennis: I would underscore the statement of preparing them ahead of time for explosive situations. I think one of the most cataclysmic points of reaction is on a Sunday morning at the two-year-old classroom. Barbara and I taught this class for a couple of years, and it was really interesting to see the fits kids would throw to try to get their way with their parents.

If you would simply take the time to tell the child, “Now here’s what is going to happen. We are going to go inside in just a moment and we’re going to drop you off at Sunday school. You can pitch all the fit you want, but Mommy and Daddy are going to worship the Lord because that’s what He wants us to do.” (And you know, there’s been no scientific evidence that brain damage occurs when kids cry in church nurseries!)

And when your child cries—because he will test you—follow through with your word. And moms, you’ve got to look away! I promise you, that little guy’s eyes are firmly fixed on Mom or Dad to see, “Is my message getting through? Am I winning?” And if they see even the slightest hint of weakness, they go for the jugular!

Let’s say we’re at the pastor’s home for dinner. Dinner is ready and the child throws a tantrum. What do you do?

Barbara: I think I would just pick my child up and walk back to the bathroom, put him on my lap, and talk to him. I think it would depend on the relationship that we had with the family we were with. If we knew them and they knew us, I wouldn’t feel a bit hesitant about spanking my child if I felt that was what was necessary. But if it was a family that we didn’t know very well, I would be more hesitant to do that. But I would definitely pick my child up and go to another part of the house and talk to him.

Dennis: The younger the child, the sooner you must administer discipline. In other words, you must punish a 2-year-old immediately after they’ve rebelled or defied you. But you can tell a 5-year-old that you’ll deal with the problem when you get home.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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