March 16, 2010

Discipline Question: Out in Public

We are Time-Out people.  It genuinely works in our family - it aggravates Abby to be still for two minutes and it brings a quick resolution to a questionable situation.  I know that some people believe it to be malarkey, but we tend to go with what works. 

While I'm at it, we're also a count-to-three family.  This side of things is a bit more relaxed than I would like sometimes, but different situations call for different methods.  Counting to three gets Abby motivated to move in the morning, and honestly I do not get to three very often.  Maybe ever.  I think she is so intimidated by the idea of getting to three that she strives to move at 2.  Again, if it works, we use it.

With that in mind - how do you do discipline when you are in public? 

I can easily pull out the count-to-three method for something that I can anticipate, but Saturday I was just in shock and clueless as to how to proceed. 

To set the scene, we had to be out of the house on Saturday and the weather was crummy, so we left the house at 7 to head to my grandfathers house in Delaware.  We stopped at a Panera Bread for breakfast, which went wonderfully aside from the rain getting in.  Wow, that stuff was hard and heavy.  Anyway, after breakfast I knew that we would be on the road for another hour and a half, so I took Abby to the Men's room with me to use the potty.  Since it is a little tall for such a short girl, I was holding onto her legs to be sure that she did not fall into the toilet.  That's happened once, and while funny it's a bit gross - especially the though of it in public!

While she was sitting she reared her hand back and I assumed she was going to play with her hair.  If I'm holding her legs, she does not have to keep herself sturdy, hair play is not out of the question, right?  As it turns out, she reared her hand back in order to slap me.  Absolutely no reason except to get a reaction - our morning had been perfect up until that point.  She slapped me silly in a public toilet in a situation that I had nothing to take away from her, nothing to use as punishment. 

I talked with her about why we do not hit people, whether it is just playing or because she is angry.  The totally got it and understood it, but I was not sure how to have handled that one better.  I hate missing opportunities to teach her with more meaning, but I could not figure out what else to do!  Any advice for the next time it happens?


  1. The only time we've had an issue in public was at a restaurant one time, but our son is still young. He wouldn't settle down, so my wife took him out of the place while I paid the bill and got the rest of our food to do. This was a few months ago, so he was barely 18 months. Not sure what he learned from that experience.

  2. That's a hard one Rob.. Abby is 2.5 right? I think you will see that she will start testing more boundaries. You are right that the slap was a means of getting your attention and seeing what you would do.

    In my opinion you handled it the right way. You turned it into a learning situation rather than a disciplinary action and that's what the situation warranted.

    By the way.. I think that could be a lyric of a new song.. "She slapped me silly in a public toilet".. ;)

  3. hmmm, this has happened a couple of times to me....random slapping because she was mad or frustrated. as soon as it happens, or if i catch her in mid-air, i grab her hand and say 'NO, you do not hit!'. and if she gets sadie, for no good reason, i do smack her hand and tell her no again.

    we use time outs in her room, because there are no toys in there. have not done counting because that doesn't work. she knows she has until 3 to actually do it. advice is to take her hand and say 'we do not hit' followed by 'that hurts' or 'that's mean'.

  4. I think you handled it the right way, especially if this was the first time it's ever happened. It may seem obvious to YOU that one shouldn't slap the person holding you over a nasty mens room potty but she's never been told :-)

    It's the NEXT time that you have to worry about. If she's not already there she will soon be to the point where you can take away stuff that is out of sight. My kids lose TV and Leapster time, dessert and favorite toys when they misbehave in public.

    Randomly enough, "Car Time Out" works wonders. Who would have thought that they'd hate Time Out in their car seats as much as they do in the house. I "put them in time out" and tell them what time on the clock it will be over. They watch the clock quietly and I extend the time if they talk/hit/misbehave. I'm just waiting for the moment they realize that sitting in a car seat is a LOT like time out already :-)


  5. I think you handled that situation perfectly. We do Time Out in our house, too and the counting - but apparently are quite generous as we count to 5. ;) Usually, though, Princess Nagger knows enough to do what she's supposed to do (or stop doing what she's not supposed to do) as soon as "One!" is uttered. :)

    In public I do use the counting, which almost always gets results. And if it doesn't, she will have something 'taken away' - if there isn't something right then that can be taken away, it's something future, like no TV for a day, or no Happy Meal for that particular excursion.

    Your daughter is at that age where she'll really start to test the boundaries - and if you do exactly as you've been doing, you'll be just fine! ;)

  6. I've been meaning to answer this for awhile and when I got back, I saw that Amy said exactly what I was going to say... while it seems perfectly obvious that we don't smack people in the face while sitting on a potty, she's never been told. Seems kind of strange, doesn't it? She may have been told about gentle touches, etc, but kids her age are still learning to transfer situational rules from one instance, (i.e. "No hitting the cat, Abby, we touch gently." to no hitting ever). Also, it seems pretty obvious to you that she wasn't being malicious, right? That's a HUGE point there... when something of that nature is done as "fun," then it's just redefining fun. When it's out of defiance or anger, it's a whole lot more complicated. Teaching kids appropriate ways to show anger/frustration is tricky... particularly when they're not quite verbal enough to articulate complex feelings.

    I definitely think you did the right thing this time. :)

    In the future, you'll be prepared!

    (And just know, every single parent has been completely mortified by their kid(s) behavior in public. Even mild-mannered, sweet kids sometimes completely lose it. The glares are coming from those who have no kids or who forget what kids are like because theirs are old and gone. The rest of us? We know. And sympathize. Take heart :)

  7. I try surprise and sometimes hurt. (I was doing this anyway, but love how effectively Ellie's kindergarten teacher uses a similar technique.)

    "Oh, ouch. In our family we do not hit people. We use gentle touches."

    (At this point I'd add a purely Sarahlynn touch about we never ever touch Mommy in a public bathroom until after we wash our hands, but I'm raising them to be neurotic just like me, YMMV.)

    For hitting and other instances of violence we do not count to three. Like running out into the street, pulling something off the stove, and other such "major" offenses we go immediately to time out. Even in public. :-)