Tips for Controlling Children's Behavior in Public Places
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D 

 Children as young as two to three years of age figure out something that their parents would never want them to.  These tiny devils, who barely come up to the knees of their parents, invariably find out that they have quite an advantage over their parents in shops, malls and other places where passers by may get a sneak preview of their antics.  The more you try to quiet them down, the louder they get.  If this sounds familiar, then read on.      

 One behavioral method that is found to be effective is called, "Marking Time Out" for problem behaviors.  This method is described in detail by Ronald Drabman and Debra Creedon in the book, Helping Parents Solve Their Children's Behavior Problems. Here is the summary of the marking time-out method.     

 According to this method, the child marks time until able to serve time-out in his or her regular time-out setting.  Parents do the actual marking with a water based felt-tipped marking pen on the child's hand.  

Before parents use this method outside the home, they need to make sure that the time-out method has been practiced correctly at home for some 
time.  The child should know what specific behaviors invite the use of time-out and realize that their parents consistently, without exception, administer the time-out procedure for a pre-determined time when a problem behavior is performed.  

The popular formula for determining the length of time for time-out is one minute for each year of the child's age, for example, five minutes for a five-year old or ten minutes for a ten-year old.  Time-out procedure is most suited for children between the age of three and eleven.  
Step 1. When the above conditions are met, you may implement the method outside your home by explaining to your child that when a specific problem behavior occurs, he or she will receive one mark on his or her hand.  This mark will represent a predetermined length of time in the time-out area at home.  Also inform the child that if he or she misbehaves for the second time, you will make the second mark and bring the child home immediately.  

Step 2.  Fix a specific reward in advance for good behavior.  Example:  A parent tells the child, "When we go to the grocery store, and you stay with me the whole time and receive no mark, you may pick out a pack of gum when we reach the check out counter." 

Step 3.  Later, when you walk up to your car to take the child outside the home such as to a store or to a relative's house, remind him or her about the marking time-out method and the specific reward.  

Step 4.  Give another reminder as you are getting out of the car and walking to your destination.  

Step 5.  If the child engages in any of the specified problem behaviors, tell the child what he or she has just done and put one mark on the child's hand for time-out at home.  Example:  A parent tells the child, "John, you teased your sister.  So, you get a mark and will go to the time-out room when we go home."  

If the child misbehaves again, bring him or her home immediately.  When home, immediately place the child into the time-out area for two periods of time-out.  

If the child does not engage in any problem behavior, praise the good behavior and give the promised reward without delay.  
There may be some situations in which you are not able to leave a place right away, for example, while in a theater or some gathering where you are the guest of honor.  Explain that to your child in advance that he or she will not be taken out right away at the second misbehavior, but each misbehavior will be marked for impending time-out at home. 

Drabman and Creedon, the authors of this marking time-out,method, recommend a few practice sessions so you can rehearse and identify problems you may encounter in implementation of this method.  Since practice sessions are only for trial and learning, you don't have to lose face if an unanticipated problem is encountered.  

Most importantly, do not mention any consequences that you can't enforce. If you can't just get up and leave a place, do not tell your child that you will. Many parents use false threats such as telling their children that if they misbehaved at their grandparents' home, they will not get to go there again.  It is better to say "not for another week (or a month)" than to say "never." 

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