We’ve all been there. That time when you find out your kid totally acted up when you weren't there. Here’s how it happened in my family recently:
I was at work. My wife needed to run errands, so her mom came over to watch the kids. Our four-year-old was left playing, but mom gave him clear instructions to “clean up, and head to nap when your Nana tells you to.”
The playing was no problem. The issue came when Nana politely let him know it was time for nap. Instead of listening and obeying, he just kept playing. He totally ignored her request, and to make it even more embarrassing, he said very matter-of-factly:
"I do whatever I Want."
It’s funny now, but it was embarrassing and frustrating at the time. You probably remember a similar time with your kids. A screaming fit in the grocery store aisle. A stubborn sit-in protest at the playground. Maybe a shrill "I hate you!" as they stomp out of the room.
How do we respond when our kids act out and embarrass us in front of others? Here's some advice for facing that embarrassing showdown.
- Don't let your personal anger or embarrassment influence your response. It’s tough to do, but your response should be the same whether someone else witnessed your child’s disobedience or not. Consistency is the key to long-term success in correcting a behavior.
- Don't let your child off the hook. Sometimes we cope with our kids' public behavior by totally ignoring it and never addressing it. Even if you can’t find a good consequence in the moment, you should let your child know she did something wrong and you do not approve.
- Don't use public shaming as a form of discipline. I’ve seen dozens of times where parents “raise the stakes” by raising their voice, pointing out their child’s foolishness, loudly voicing their displeasure, or sternly threatening to leave. I see it all the time, but I've never seen it work.
- Apologize to any affected parties. Like it or not, the buck stops with you - not your child. If you’re the parent and your child acted out, you need to own it. To be clear, you’re not apologizing for your child. Hopefully they can do that on their own by the end of the discipline process. From my own story, at some point we should have better trained our four-year-old to listen to anyone we leave in charge. We didn’t, so we needed to apologize to my mother-in-law for that (and our son eventually apologized to Nana too).
- Give your child an appropriate consequence. If you do nothing except tell your child "that was wrong," they probably won't learn. Let them know what that there will be a consequence. The younger they are, the more immediate it should be (if possible). Giving them a timeout later that day isn’t as effective as making them clean up their toys and sit quietly for 5 minutes right now.
Remember, we’re all in this together. You’re allowed to laugh later too, especially at cute four-year-olds. When you’re inevitably embarrassed by your kids, don't stoop to their level. Be the parent, keep your cool, and help mold your child's character to become more like Jesus.