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How to Overcome the Challenge of Parenting in Public

  • Misty Honnold Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 02, 2017
How to Overcome the Challenge of Parenting in Public

I was a young mother with two beautiful, almost perfect, young girls. They were sensitive to correction and, as a result, I entered into parenting my third child with the expectation of continued near-perfection—at least until the day he threw himself down in the toy store kicking and screaming. Gone were the days of being the perfect parent. 

I was still a young mother, not yet 30, and I felt that my children’s public behavior was a reflection of me as a mother and woman. Now, over 20 years later and after multiple public episodes, I have learned that the behavior of my kids is actually not a reflection of my own worth. Over time, this realization freed me—and I truly needed that freedom—to parent in public when the children were not behaving properly. 

The main thing I learned is I have to parent. I realized I could not stop parenting just because we were in a public setting, but the challenge was understanding what that looked like. After the shock of that tantrum of my third child, I learned to walk into public situations with my children prepared. 

It’s important to be prepared in every area: 

Prepare your own heart and mind. 

A mother once asked, “What do I do when I am ashamed of the way my kids behave in public?” Shame is our problem, not theirs. However, as a young mother, I felt my children’s behavior was a direct reflection on me. If they misbehaved, I perceived that everyone thought I was a bad parent. I was parenting to please others and based my parenting on their responses and reactions to my children. When my kids got accolades, it meant that I was a good person, mother, etc. This is a lot of pressure to put on our children. So, we must evaluate our own motives and prepare our hearts and minds with our identity rooted in Christ, not the behavior of our children.  

Prepare your children ahead of time.

My youngest son didn’t do well when there was a change of plan. Every night he would want to know what the next day’s agenda was. If something unexpected came up, a meltdown was sure to happen. I learned over time to prepare him for the possibility of change. I eventually became a single mother of four, so life was sure to throw a few curve balls, and I didn’t have the energy to navigate a meltdown. 

In the case of my third child, I needed to find ways to alleviate his strong emotions when changes came. As we would go over the schedule, I would let him know that if anything new came up in the midst of the day (and I might give some examples), our plans might change. This seemingly small amount of extra information paid huge dividends and was all he needed to make it through an interruption in our agenda.  

Prepare activities, snacks, etc.

This takes time and energy, but in the long run it saves so much frustration. Our family took many long road trips. I learned how effective a variety of games and activities were in keeping the kids (all ages) from public displays of emotion. Depending on the ages of children, it helped even being prepared with questions for them to think about during the outing. Oftentimes my kids would know what question I would be asking when we got back in the car, so they had to be thinking about or looking for an answer to contribute to the family discussion.

Prepare with timing.

Nothing spells disaster more than to take a tired or hungry child out and about. Planning outings that allow for nap times—or that occur before the end of the day—helps everyone’s emotions.

Prepare with instructions.

The grocery store was always our big shopping spree. However, I could easily become exhausted and irritable by the end of our one-to-two-hour excursion with four children (or even two) endlessly asking “Can I get this, Mommy?” Before going into the store, I would give instructions such as, “You are not getting anything extra today; we are sticking to the list.” Or if there was the freedom to have the children pick up something at the end of the excursion, it would serve as a reward for their good behavior or assistance. If they started to ask or beg, usually I would not even respond, or I would reply with a gently-stated, “I have already answered that question.” That is so much better than saying no 100 times!

And if a public display of inappropriate behavior happens, be prepared to follow through with your parenting. 

One friend showed me the importance of follow-through when she shared a story of one of her children disobeying in public. She gently told them when they got home they would get disciplined. By the time they got home, all was well; the kids were happy and groceries had to be put away. As this tired momma laid down in bed that night, she remembered what she had told her child. Nothing in her wanted to get out of bed to follow through, but she knew that her children were learning that her “yes” meant “yes” and her “no” really did mean “no.” So she crawled out of bed and proceeded with the discipline. Then they hugged and prayed together.  

As parents, the best way for us to be prepared is to know our own discipline responses to the misbehavior of our children and stick to that no matter what. Our children learn so very much from our consistency. 

After all, our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We must teach our children about the consistency of God in everyday life. That enables them to learn that God expects the same from us whether we are in public or in private. Through consistent parenting regardless of the location, we train up our children in the way they should go, pointing them to a God who doesn’t change and promises in His Word that if we do that, they eventually will keep to His ways.

A Prayer to be a Godly Parent

Lord, thank you for the example you put before us in how to parent well in private and public. You did not cease to deal with the sin of your children in public. When the men gathered to stone the woman in adultery, Jesus, you dealt with the sin of the men and the woman without shaming anyone. Teach us your ways, Father, and give us your heart in every matter. Give us the courage and wisdom to parent well in public. Thank you for the Spirit of counsel that You promise is ours. We welcome and invite Your counsel in preparing our hearts, minds, and activities. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 


Misty Honnold is the Founder and Director of the non-profit organization The Single MOM KC.  Misty equips, trains and empowers women to discover the source of their strength in Christ. She publishes a weekly blog on the website The Single MOM KC as well as freelances for other publications. She is working on her first book to be published in 2016; an autobiographical teaching of the Song of Solomon.

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