When your kid misbehaves in public, have you threatened to walk away and leave him behind? Experts do not recommend walking away as punishment and it is not just for safety reasons.
Vicky Ho, head of research and development at Focus on the Family Singapore, says the child may interpret walking away as a withdrawal of his parents’ love as they physically and emotionally distance themselves from him.
She says: “For a child who is already frustrated and struggling to express himself, this would exasperate him further.”
Shu Mei Winstanley, co-founder of parenting organisation and social enterprise Chapter Zero Singapore, says that a young child’s brain is not fully developed until the age of three and much of what he does, including having a tantrum, can be attributed to that.
She says: “They have little impulse control and cannot regulate their emotions well, so parents need to be there to help them set boundaries as well as regulate and label their emotions.”
(Also read: 3 ways to tame your child’s temper)
Take preventive measures
Some parents say that taking preventive steps helps to reduce the likelihood of their child acting out in public.
Alumni relations officer Shanmugapriya Paskaran, says she and her husband give their sons, aged five and three, mini “pep talks” before going out, telling them where they are going, what to expect there and how they should behave.
She says: “For instance, if we are going to a party where there will be other kids, we tell them to remember to share and get along well with the other children.”
Civil servant Carol Soh noticed that her daughters, aged 14 and 11, tended to act up in public when they were hungry, bored or sleepy when they were younger.
“So before going out, I would make sure they had eaten enough or had a nap. If it was going to be a long trip, I would take along toys or games.”
While she admits there were times when she felt like threatening to walk away from them when they misbehaved, she says: “I know discipline by fear does not help a child learn. A more effective discipline method would be to go to the root of the issue and turn the situation into a teachable moment.
“So, I would just take a deep breath, slow myself down and tell myself to parent calmly.”
Understand your kid’s viewpoint
Marketing manager Sylvia Huang finds that being empathetic and learning to see things from her child’s perspective has been helpful in dealing with her three-year-old son Noah’s public meltdowns.
She finds that when she and her husband put themselves in his shoes, they become calmer.
“I understand, for instance, why he’s unwilling to leave the playground and I ask myself how I can help him cope better. Maybe I can offer him a more exciting thing to look forward to or promise to return another day.
“I find that when I am sincere in empathising with him and not just paying lip service, he tends to snap out of his tantrum faster.”
(Also read: 10 ways to discipline your child)
A version of this story first appeared in The Sunday Times.