How To Cope With Bratty Behaviour In Public


My three-year-old can be counted on to behave like a brat whenever we are in the mall or in a restaurant. He seems to know I will not punish him there in front of other people. How should I handle this tactic?


Let me answer you with an illustration from nature. They tell me that a raccoon can usually kill a dog if he gets him in a lake or river. He will simply pull the hound underwater until he drowns.

Most other predatory animals prefer to do battle on the turf of their own choosing. So do children.

If they’re going to pick a fight with Mum or Dad, they’d rather stage it in a public place, such as a supermarket or in the restaurant. They are smart enough to know that they are “safer” in front of other people. They will grab candy or speak in disrespectful ways that would never be attempted at home.

Again, the most successful military generals are those who surprise the enemy in a terrain advantageous to their troops. Public facilities represent the high ground for a rambunctious preschooler.

You may be one of the parents who has fallen into the trap of creating “sanctuaries” in which the old rules aren’t enforced. It is a certainty that your strong-willed son or daughter will notice those safe zones and behave offensively and disrespectfully when there.

There is something within the tougher child that almost forces him to “test the limits” in situations where the resolve of adults is a question. Therefore, I recommend that you lay out the ground rules before you enter those public arenas, making it clear that the same rules will apply.

Then if he misbehaves, simply take him back to the car or around the corner and do what you would have done at home. His public behaviour will improve dramatically.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia ( and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr James Dobson with permission.