How to Encourage Toddlers to Behave in Public

Just like charity, good behavior starts at home. Too many parents wait until a big event – a trip to an amusement park, a wedding or a meal in a nice restaurant to start curbing their child’s less than stellar behavior. Or on a simple trip to the grocery store, the temper-tantrum you would ignore at home may trigger comments from an innocent bystander, and you feel compelled to suddenly implement some form of discipline.

Without a foundation of good behavior and discipline, you are faced with an impossible task. But there is hope:

Lay the groundwork

Begin at home to establish a baseline of desirable behavior. If your child behaves badly at home, you cannot expect them to behave better elsewhere. Basics like voice volume, table manners, interaction with others must be established at home, where you can control the environment and deal calmly with any problems that may arise.

Baby steps

If your toddler hasn’t had the opportunity to go out in public, start with short trips to “safe” places (once you have laid some of the groundwork at home). Play-dates with well-behaved children, trips to the library for reading sessions, meals at family-friendly restaurants are good places to start. Don’t stress yourself out by expecting too much – of yourself, of your child or of the people you will be interacting with.

Don’t over react

If things go horribly wrong, don’t overreact, don’t loose your temper!. Stay calm and guide your child to a place where you can deal with the situation without disturbing others. If this means leaving a meal or finishing the shopping another time, so be it – the point of the exercise is to help your child learn to behave appropriately in public.


Toddlers have bundles of energy. Don’t expect them to sit quietly for hours on end, regardless of the situation. Give them the opportunity to run around and use up some of that energy, in an acceptable manner.

Set’em up to win

Create situations that allow our child to succeed – avoid situations that will guarantee failure. For example, if there is a child who routinely serves as a catalyst for your child’s bad behavior, try to avoid encountering that child, especially in the early stages of your work. Don’t expect them to put on a fancy new outfit and stay quiet and clean at the family reunion – bring some play clothes and give them a chance to blow off some steam.

When you are out and about, remember that your first responsibility is to your child. Your objective is teaching your child how to behave in public – other goals – shopping, eating, visiting are secondary. Spend time with your toddler now, and you will have a easier time with your child as they grow older.