Why I’m not Afraid to Take my Kids Out in Public

By: Jenny Baxter

A few years ago, there was a news report about a Christchurch family who visited a local café. By accident they discovered they were labelled as the “family with the terrifying kid”! Read about it here.

I’ve learnt a lot about this. I’m not afraid to take my kids out in public – that’s partly because they’re grown up now. But also because child discipline is something I’ve learnt to do.

jenny baxter kids and grandkids

There’s three of my five children in the photo above. However, as you can see, I still have small ones in my immediate family.

So here’s what I’ve discovered

Instead of being terrified of being terrifying, choose to maintain your calm when you and your kids are in public. That’s one side of the equation. The other side is: how do you use child discipline when you are out and about?

True or False – Common Expectations

FALSE: Children must behave perfectly at all times

Children misbehaving when they are out is normal. But members of the public often have a very different idea! Honestly, it’s so easy to judge when it’s not your kid.

TRUE: We carry guilt!

The mother in the café incident is quoted saying: “The bigger issue for me is that as a young family, I have a two-year-old and a 10-month old, even though we go out a lot I still find it difficult to take my kids out. I’m always thinking, ‘are people staring at us? Are my kids too loud? Are they being disruptive?’”

Oh my gosh! She feels so guilty! I’ve been there too. Is it like that for you? What would it take for you to not be afraid to take your kids out?

It’s such a difficult issue, and, as this mother indicated, it often comes back to self-judgment, guilt and condemnation. Then when others around you criticize you or your parenting ability, it’s so much worse.

TRUE: It’s easy to judge

I have a wise friend who gave me great advice: “You just don’t know what sort of day that mother and kids have had. So, it’s best not to judge based only on what you see.”

And it’s so true. You don’t know if the child is sick, or if there was an almighty battle just getting dressed before coming out. Maybe there is an unsettling loss in the family, or perhaps everyone just got out of bed on the wrong side.

Whatever the problem, there’s no place for bystanders to judge.

FALSE: Bystanders cannot offer help

Perhaps, instead of judging, it might be more useful for an onlooker to offer some help to a mother who is struggling?

A friend of mine recently arrived at the airport with three little ones and a bundle of luggage. She had to check them in, while her husband returned the hire car. Not one person offered to hep her as she traipsed back and forth across the terminal building with children, pusher and luggage. In a marathon effort she managed it on her own. But she would have loved one of the many people watching, to have helped her out.

The thing to remember is, every mother is on a huge learning curve. And it’s likely she is learning some things today. You can help by being that positive voice or pair of hands.

As Jennie Finch said, “You don’t take a class; you’re thrown into motherhood and learn from experience”.

FALSE: There’s nothing parents can do

It’s easy to throw your hands up in the air, give up and let you kids run wild. I know. I’ve even done that! But there ARE some things you can do to make sure your children don’t cause a ruckus.

So, here are some tips, learned over many years of extensive shopping, with multiple children, in public places!

6 Tips to get In and Out of the Supermarket (Minus the Tears and Guilt)

OR, Why I’m not afraid to take my kids out

1. Timing

It’s your choice when you go out

True, you don’t always have a choice about when you make a supermarket dash. But often you do. Children who misbehave are often too tired, too hungry, or have some other issue that’s taking them over the edge. So if you can, make sure your children have eaten, toileted and slept. It makes your job of child discipline sooo much easier.

2. Briefing

Do your kids know what’s happening?

If your little angel is old enough, talk to her about the supermarket trip, or other errands you are about to do. Actually, even babies take in far more than we realise, so tell them too. Sometimes just knowing what’s going on, and what is happening next, makes all the difference.

Take a moment to explain what will happen, and what is expected, before you go inside. This is when you can talk about incentives. Read on!

3. Incentives

Give your child reasons to be good

  • “If you do what I say, then when we are finished, we’ll go home, and we can _______” [fill the blank with a favourite activity]


  • “If you behave yourself today, remember we will buy one thing that costs less than $x for you to enjoy when we are done.”

You could also name the purchase here – juice, small packet of chips, a piece of fruit, some special kids’ cheese, a book. Whatever it is, make it something they love that you can remind them about if they show signs of misbehaving.

Of course, this also means that if they do not behave, they miss out on their treat. It’s important to follow through on this if you want better behaviour next time. That’s one of the secrets to effective child discipline.

4. Repeat that please!

The broken-record technique is a helpful tool

Here’s what to do when the mischief begins, and you need to offer some child discipline. Tell your child the situation slowly and clearly without raising your voice, until they understand you are not backing down.

Kath is a friend of mine who took her young son to Target one day. While there, he got his mind set on a beautiful green toy racing car. She looked at the price, and just about fell over.

She said to her boy, “I’m really sorry Ben, we can’t buy that today. Please put it back and we will go.”

When he refused, she just repeated it.

No raising of voice. No getting cross: “I’m really sorry Ben, we can’t buy that today. Please put it back and we will go.”

It took 20 minutes, of careful and quiet repetition. But he finally got the message and put it back on the shelf. This is one tool that gives me much more confidence, and means I do not have to be afraid to take kids out in public.

5. Cut and run

Sometimes the worst things happen

There are those bad days, aren’t there? The days that come with temper tantrums in the supermarket. Or a squished finger in the supermarket trolley. Or some other disaster which takes you, or your child, over the edge.

In that case, just pick up your bag, leave your items behind (take your child though!), and run for it. There will be a better moment to be out and about.

6. Remember: It’s the long game

Pace yourself

It’s so easy to forget in the moment, but motherhood isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.

Maybe today didn’t work out so well. But in the context of your 18-year job of raising an adult, today is just one day.

So if you do have a disastrous trip to the supermarket, head for home, and congratulate yourself for bearing one more day. You have a new experience to ponder on. And it’s one more event to learn from on your remarkable journey of motherhood.

7. Your identity

People-pleasing doesn’t work

In the end, it isn’t up to other people about what happens to your kids. It’s up to you. You (and your partner, if you have one) are the ones making the choices. You get to live with those kids. In reality, you are the ones in charge of their development. No one else.

It takes confidence in yourself to ignore the stares and whispers of others. But you can. Your identity – who you are – does not depend on them. Your identity can be grounded in the knowledge that God loves you, and you are his. There is strength on that solid ground. No matter what other people say, your identity does not change. That’s one big reason I’m not afraid to take my kids out.

So take heart dear one! You’ve got this! Child discipline in public can be done. And you can do it!

Article supplied with thanks to Treasuring Mothers.

About the Author: Married with 5 children, and 3 adorable grandkids, Jenny is an accomplished writer, manager and Board Director with a heart for motherhood.

Feature image: Photo by Jomjakkapat Parrueng on Unsplash

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