10 tips for disciplining children in public

Everyone has seen a child, maybe their own child, crying or throwing a tantrum in public. Instead of stewing in annoyance, here are 10 practical tips for handling such situations, offered by Mindy Law, an early childhood teacher at Buds and Blossoms.

1. When a child is crying on the bus: “You just can’t say, ‘stop,’ and expect them to follow immediately. Just sing songs. If you say ‘please stop stop stop,’ they won’t or it could get worse. The best way is to play a song. Redirect their attention. Pretend to do something else. If you play a song, it calms them down. They will follow you. You can give them a toy or a book that has a song. When my boy was a kid, I always kept something like a book in my purse. Especially his favorite toy, like a car.”

2. After the child calms down, you can’t forget to ask them why they were upset in the first place. That way you can learn what the kid is feeling. The first time they do something wrong, you have to give them a warning. Then you can tell them the better solution, like, “you have to go over and say sorry to your friend. I saw you hit the other child.”

3. After you explain a better solution, you have to give them time to process. Mindy likes to use the sand hourglass. “They don’t know time, so you can’t say five minutes. Everything has to be visual. But if you show them a sand hourglass, they can see when it goes all the way down. Afterwards, they have to give back the toy,” she advised.

4. In the classroom, you have to keep them busy, but give them choices.

5. In terms of development, being 2- or 3-year-old is the most important period of time. Some parents work hard and don’t have time for their child. If you ask someone else to take care of the child, they will become insecure and learn to not trust you. You have to watch your own kids.

6. When a child is crying over a broken toy, you can tell a child to make another one. Usually they say ok. You can also promise them to get another one. If you do, you have to get it for them. If you can’t do it now, you can give it to them later, and tell them. “But you have to keep your promises. Don’t think they’re stupid,” Mindy cautioned.

7. For first-day-of-school anxiety, Mindy tells parents to come back early. If a child doesn’t see something, they will think that thing has disappeared. But if a parent comes back after they say they will be back, you can build up trust.

8. What do you do if a child follows racist attitudes from their parents?

“When I was teaching at the YMCA, there was a little 3-year-old boy who said, ‘I don’t like her sitting next to me,’ about an Indian,” said Mindy. “I asked why. He said, ‘Because she smells.’ We usually teach them it’s just a color. Everyone is born with a color. We use the crayons to teach colors and skin colors. Everyone has a different color you are born with. The skin color does not tell you who you are. Don’t think of the color of this person. When babies are born, they are pure. The world is so pretty.”

9. In Chinese culture, food is of utmost importance, and often Chinese parents may encourage their children to buy candy so they can bring it to class and share it with others. Mindy said, “It’s not the right thing. We don’t share food at school. This parent needs to learn American school rules. In China, it is different. Everyone thinks it is a treat for their kids. There is a different cultural meaning.”

10. In general, Mindy suggests, “Don’t use power to force a child to work — like you can’t just say, ‘I’m the mother.’ Children need to feel comfortable to say, ’Let’s discuss. I have feelings too.’”


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