My Child Misbehaves in Public. What should I do?

Sarah doesn’t know what to do. Her son AbdurRahman troubles her alot.

“I feel so anxious around him in public!”

As a single parent, every public outing is a challenging moment for her. She’s often left frozen and embrassed when AbdurRahman begins acting out. She’s tried warning him a few times before.

“We are going home if you don’t stop!”, “Okay. No more video games!”, “That’s enough!”

However, AbdurRahman’s behaviors haven’t ceased.

“What do I do?”

Here are a couple of things I would ask Sarah:

  • Who is in the driver’s seat? Phrased another way, are you your child’s parent or are you there friend? Your child can get many friends but they will only have one set of parents. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly. However, you must take control of the car at all times when your child is trying to veer it off the road, particularly when they are young.
  • How have you defined boundaries? Let’s face it – Children will be children. They want to smile, laugh, scream, get angry, act out, run around; we get the good and bad at times in one small package! There brains are still developing. Specifically, the areas responsible for regulating emotions and inhibiting behaviors. We can’t blame a natural, organic matter as per the will of Allah. We need to be compassionate to that. What we can do is shape their development by Allah’s leave. So as a parent it’s important to discuss with yourself and your other half, what behaviors are you flexible about and what behaviors will you absolutely not tolerate. Having a plan in place can help decrease any anxiety you have since you will be prepared if things get out of hand.
  • Are rules and expectations set before going out into the public? It’s important to take a moment out with your child before going out to discuss what you will and will not tolerate. This will mean there are no surprises when consequences are laid.
  • Is what your child thinks of you more important than what people think? Because yes, there will be embarassing moments in public with your child. However, it’s important that your child takes you seriously as a parent. For that you need to think about letting go of what others’ think about you and focus on your parenting role. The latter trumps pretty much everything else.
  • Are warning and consequences followed through with? When you tell your child you will do something and don’t follow through with it, what message are you sending them? “My parents won’t really do anything”, “I can’t trust them to parent me”, “People’s warnings are empty threats”, “I can do what I want without consequences”? Whether it’s a reward or punishment, following through with promises and consequences is important.
  • Do you own the consequences? Parents are human beings who want to enjoy themselves and have fun too. So their child’s misbehavior in public creates creates a dilemma for them. For instance, if Sarah told AbdurRahman that they would go home if he misbehaved around her friends, can Sarah follow through with that? Especially if she’s having a good time herself? It’s a tough choice. Perhaps she can try parenting AbdurRahman in public. But what if things get too out of hand? As parents and especially leaders to our children, it’s important to communicate to them that their consequences not only affect them but also others too.
  • How hard are you on yourself? There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on your role as a parent. I encourage all parents to do this. However, I would advise against being hard on yourself. Parenting is tough enough without you being tough on yourself. Look at the Prophets of Allah and how some of their children turned out. Read the stories of Adam, Nuh, Yaqub (Peace be upon them). At the end of the day we try our bests as parents and leave the rest to Allah. “And know that your properties and your children are but a trial and that Allah has with Him a great reward.” (Qur’an Surah Al-Anfal Verse 28).
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About the author

Ismail Shaikh is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 10 years of experience working with individuals and families with Psychosocial concerns. He is passionate about helping people care for their inner world and and their relationships better. In addition to working full-time on an Mental Health Team, he operates a private practice online at www.carekhalifah.com where he offers therapy services to the Muslim community. He is also a Legal Capacity Assessor for the Capacity Assessment Office in Ontario. He writes for various publications such as Virtual Mosque, Podium Magazine and Muslimmatters.org. He resides in Toronto with his wife and daughter. Got a question? Email him at ismail@carekhalifah.com.

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