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How to Improve Child Behavior Away From Home

Improve Child Behavior


Updated May 19, 2009

How to Improve Child Behavior Away From Home

After a lot of hard work, you have finally reached the point where you feel more confident and comfortable in implementing a behavioral plan at home. You have increased the structure and consistency at home. Routines are in place. You have set up clear house rules and expectations. You are providing frequent, immediate feedback and praise. You are consistent with consequences. You are ignoring the negative, but minor attention-seeking behaviors. You are praising effort and movement towards goals. Everything about your relationship with your child feels more positive.

After all these wonderful accomplishments, you have just had a set back. Your child had a major tantrum at the mall and you felt uncertain and unsure about how to handle the behavior. To top it off, the sales person at the store was not very understanding and you received quite a few judgmental looks from other shoppers. Feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed and wanting the tantrum to stop, you gave in to your child’s demands. Once back in the car and heading home to familiar territory, you know that your response basically reinforced the acting out.

Don’t worry. You have been successful in finding solutions at home and now you can also implement strategies for helping your child on outings away from home. The first step is to have a plan in place.

Prepare By Stating Expectations

Prepare your child for the outing. “We are going to the store to buy a present for Aunt Ida. I want you to stay right beside me and do as I say.” To make certain that your child understands expectations have her repeat them back to you. Give your child praise after she repeats back the expectations. If your child tends to grab at store items or demand that you buy her things, you can further prepare her by saying, “I want you to keep your hands to yourself. We are only buying one thing, a present for Aunt Ida.”

Be Clear About Consequences

Before the outing, let your child know about the reward she will earn for following directions. “If you are able to follow my directions, we will stop by the playground on the way home.” The consequences for disruptive behavior may include loss of the playground trip or other privilege.

Practice by Role Playing

You can practice the expected behavior by role playing at home. Set up a pretend store and practice good shopping behavior. After she practices, she may even want to trade roles so that she plays the mother and you play the child. If your child likes to draw, she may have fun drawing a scene with the inappropriate behavior that results in a loss of privilege, as well as the expected behavior that results in a reward.

Catch Your Child Being Good

During the outing, be sure to draw attention to your child’s positive behaviors. “I really like the way you are walking right beside me.” Prepare her as you approach potentially problematic situations. “We need to walk by the glass items. They are very fragile. Let’s hold hands to help get by them safely.” As your child takes your hand, praise her immediately.

Frequent and Immediate Feedback

It is important to give your child frequent and immediate feedback about her behaviors. If you notice her behaviors begin to escalate, intervene early. Remain calm and stay in control. State instructions clearly and wait for compliance. If she does not comply, enforce consequences. If necessary, you may also use time out in a similar way to the way you use it at home. Time out can be done in the store or, if behaviors have become too disruptive, you may need to leave the store and have her complete the time out in the car.

Additional Reading:
Parenting Tips
Tips for Families
Help Your Child Follow Directions

Source: Harvey C. Parker, PhD. The ADHD Workbook for Parents. Specialty Press, Inc. Florida. 2008.

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