How to Discipline When a Child is Making a Scene

At some point, all parents have had to deal with a child who did not want to listen or comply with what needed to be done. Whether it was getting the child to buckle his or her car seat or leave a fun place (such as a public swimming pool or beach), the child resisted to the point of making a scene.

What’s a parent to do? Discipline the child by imposing a punishment? Bribe the child by offering a reward? Neither. Following are the best discipline approaches for this situation.

First, understand that children mature when they begin to realize that other people’s interests are also involved in their decisions. Having a youngster become aware of this is one of the most important charges a parent has.

When in the midst of the situation, one approach is to ask the child, “Do you want to go swimming in the future?” (Or some other question related to the current situation, as in, “Do you want to go to the toy store in the future?” “Do you want to eat at a restaurant in the future?” “Do you want to go to the park in the future?” You get the idea.)This question would prompt the child to reflect and make a choice for his or her long-term best interests.

Another approach is to say—during the height of the scene—“The clock is running.” Explain that the phrase means the child is now using up your time and will be accountable for it later. Don’t tell the youngster what that means. The next day let the child know that he or she used 10 minutes of your time at the pool (beach, store, or wherever the event took place) the day before and now it’s the child’s turn to wait on you by doing something you need done. Give the youngster two choices of assignments—preferably distasteful ones. The key to remember is that THE CHILD does the choosing. Or have the youth suggest an activity that will assist him or her to not repeat the behavior. Either way, having the child choose is the prime difference between elicitation and imposition. Something elicited is owned by the person. Something imposed promotes victimhood thinking because it generates a feeling of lack of control. This feeling often results in blaming the person who imposed the punishment.

Finally, here is very simple technique to keep in mind—one you have experienced but may not have consciously thought about: THE PERSON WHO ASKS THE QUESTION CONTROLS THE CONVERSATION. When the child asks you a question in the heat of the moment (such as, “Why do we have to leave?”), and you enter into a discussion based on the question, the child is controlling the conversation. Pull out of this by answering with your own question instead (“Why do you think we have to leave now?”).

By using these techniques, you can lessen the stress during even the most stressful parenting situations.