Children & Adolescents Clinic

 Home Parent's Guide

Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Behavior in Public Places: Teaching Good Behavior

Taking children to restaurants and grocery, discount, and department stores can be both fun and educational.


To make trips to public places more enjoyable, begin by taking numerous "training trips." These are best described as short trips made for the sole purpose of teaching your child how to behave in public places.

  • Training trips should not exceed 15 minutes and could be only 5 minutes.
  • Choose a time when the store or restaurant is not very busy.
  • Training trips should be for teaching, not for shopping or eating.
  • Rules should be stated before you leave home, as matter- of-factly as possible, and restated immediately before you enter the "training area." Some suggestions for rules include:

    a. Stay with Mom or Dad. Do not walk alone.

    b. Do not pick up or touch things without permission from Mom or Dad.

    c. Nothing will be purchased on the trip.

  • Provide your child with a lot of brief, nonverbal, physical contact (at least once every minute or half- minute) for good behavior. Occasionally praise your child, saying, for example, "Mike, you sure are being good," "You're staying right next to Mommy," or "Thank you for not picking up any candy."
  • Maintain frequent physical contact with your child. Touch him gently on the back, rough up his hair, or briefly give him a hug, pulling him next to you.


  • Involve your child in the activity as much as possible. Have her get groceries for you or place them in the cart. Give your child educational instructions, such as "Get me the green can, please," or "Bring me the bag of pretzels, please." Don't forget to say "please" and "thank you" when appropriate.
  • Include your child in pleasant conversation regarding what you're doing. For example, you might say, "We're going to make sloppy joes with this hamburger meat. You really like sloppy joes, don't you?".
  • This is also a good time to teach your child about his world. For example, "Bananas grow on trees. What else can you think of that grows on trees?" or "All fruits have a skin or cover on them to protect them from rain and bugs."
  • By your frequent physical contact, praise, teaching, and pleasant conversation, your child will remain much more interested in the trip. By actually helping you, he will learn that stores are a fun place to visit.
  • If your child breaks one of your rules, immediately make her sit in "time-out." This can be any place that is generally out of the normal flow of foot traffic. In a grocery store, you can just point to one of the tile floor squares and firmly tell your child to sit on that square because she walked away from you. In a restaurant, you can simply turn your child's chair around. If the restaurant is not very crowded, you can place your child on another chair about 3 to 4 feet away from you. As soon as your child is quiet for about half a minute, tell her that it is okay to get up or to turn her chair back to the table.
  • Generally the better your child behaves at home, the better he'll behave in public. When you are having trouble in public, step up your efforts at home.
  • Remember, praise and attention, coupled with firm discipline, are the tools for teaching your child. Discipline alone will not work. Using praise and attention with discipline will work to make your trips to stores and restaurants much more enjoyable for both of you.

Written by E. Christophersen, Ph.D., author of "Little People: Guidelines for Commonsense Child Rearing."
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems