Bad Behaviour in Public Places
girl throwing tantrumBy Laura Kiln, STAMP OUT Creator

I’ve spoken with many parents who have experienced bad behaviour from their children when they take them out. Here are a few tips to combat bad behaviour in public:
  • Praise and reward your child’s good behaviour when out so they don’t resort to being naughty to get your attention
  • Keep trips out quick because children become bored easily
  • React to bad behaviour in the same way in public as you would at home
  • Set up ‘dummy shopping trips’ where you only buy a few items

Why do children save their worst behaviour for public places?

Taking children shopping, out for a meal or to the doctor can be an exasperating experience for any parent. Children’s behaviour seems to get worse in public places for a variety of reasons. Adults might be too involved with the shopping list, or too busy chatting to their friend. Children learn from a very early age the best way to get an immediate reaction is to do something naughty. Parents who pay attention to bad behaviour, whilst ignoring the good behaviour, teach that bad behaviour earns a bigger pay off.

Another reason children behave badly in public places is they are bored. It is unrealistic to expect a four-year-old to remain quiet and focussed during a two-hour shopping trip, or even an hour for a coffee and gossip!

Children have limited experiences of learning how to behave in public. If they misbehave, it is likely their parents will become annoyed and embarrassed and may deal with the tantrum in a different way than they do at home. This teaches the child that public tantrums end with them getting what they wanted so as to avoid a fuss.

What can I do to help my child learn to behave in shops?

Children need help to learn new skills, and it is vital that this is done in as relaxed a manner as possible. Set up ‘dummy shopping trips’, where you only buy six things. Explain to your child first that a new system is being introduced. The goal is to teach children new behaviour and reward it.

Let your child choose a reward, such as a bag of chips, to have if they succeed. When your child behaves well, such as walking nicely, praise that behaviour, explaining exactly what pleased you. At the end of the aisle praise them again and give the child a token. Continue until you have your six items.

Once the items are purchased trade the tokens for the reward. This provides the opportunity for your child to learn the behaviour you want and, trip-by-trip, your shopping list gets longer and they are better behaved.

For more information about STAMP OUT, or to read other articles by Laura Kiln, visit

About the author

Laura Kiln (PgDip (CBT) (Child & Adolescence), BSc (Hons), RN, RM, RHV, NP, MHN) has more than 20 years experience in working with children, adolescents and their families and she is recognised internationally as an expert in the field of parenting.

Laura lives and works on the NSW Central Coast after moving to Australia from the UK, where she worked in London at the Institute of Psychiatry and the National Specialist Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Having four children herself, Laura understands the demands and dramas of raising a family! Laura established STAMP OUT to help parents and children. She uses a variety of techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy, workshops, groups and individual sessions, in a comfortable relaxed environment where kids and/or their parents can discuss problems away from the stigma that can be attached to seeking help.