Q. When we take our 4-year-old into a store or restaurant, he begins misbehaving. How do you discipline a child when the eyes of the world are upon you?
The sticky problem of controlling a youngster in public places is one parents can unstick by using a simple method I call “Tickets.”
In advance of your next trek to a store, cut three ticket-sized rectangles out of poster board and draw a “smiley face” on each. Just before entering the store, review the rules. Tell him to walk and stay with you at all times, etc.
For a child this age, keep it to no more than three rules.
Hand over the tickets. “These three tickets are going to help you remember the rules. Every time you break one of the rules, I'm going to take a ticket away from you. When we get home, you must have at least one ticket left to go outside. If you lose all three tickets in the store, then you will be in the house with no television for the rest of the day.”
Having a discipline plan enables you to keep your balance, and your cool when a problem occurs. In the past, when he darted away from you in a store or put his fingers on expensive porcelain, you became instantly flustered. Now, however, you simply remind him of the rule and take a ticket.
“Tickets” is a versatile system that can be used to address a lot of misbehaviors. Take sassiness, for one example.
Your 6-year-old has a bad habit of talking back to you. Tell her that every time she sasses you, she will lose a ticket. If and when she loses all three tickets on any given day, she will have to spend the rest of the day in her room and go to bed early.
When you are finished with your explanation, she will undoubtedly sass you, giving you an opportunity to demonstrate how the system works.
This column first appeared in 2004.