Sticky Situations | Disciplining in Public


We moms are all supposed to be on the same team, right? But what about those times when you catch another mom giving you a sideways judgy glance – whether it’s because you just let your toddler eat a cracker off the floor or your preschooler is getting bullied by a bigger kid and you step in to reprimand the offender? In this series we’re talking about these sticky situations…the ones where you feel like you might be breaking some sort of unspoken rule – if only you knew what it was! Help us solve these tricky questions in the comments – sound off with your own opinions and let’s get some discussion going!


Regardless of your discipline technique – time-outs, spankings, mama-child “discussions”, loss of priviledges – all moms universally relate to the age-old public discipline dilemma, right?

Since Nora turned roughly 18 months old I’ve been given multiple opportunities to “perfect” my public discipline technique. For example…

I get together on a weekly basis with some dear friends and their other 2 year olds (yes – that sounds scary – I fully realize that!). We frequently meet at various mall play areas, Imagination Avenue, The Play Factory… you name any indoor activity play option and we’ve probably hit it up.

As you all know my sweet little Nora is quite the Spirited Child. In this case, the reason why I mention this is simply because the definition of a spirited child includes the term “feisty.”


1. Having or showing exuberance and strong determination.
2. Touchy and aggressive.

This will be a great quality of Nora’s (once we help her to manage her feisty-ness appropriatly) but oftentimes at age 2 in playdate situations it’s a little hard for Ms. Nora to manage all of her aggressiveness.

On this particular playdate Nora really Really REALLY wanted to use a specific toy. More than likely she’d only had her eyes on it for roughly 2 seconds but it appeared as if she’d been DYING to play with that one toy all morning. I’m sure you can imagine this scene unfolding. Nora marched her way up to the little play car. Grabbed the shirt of the little girl who was currently in the play car and yanked her out of her prized possession with just a little too much aggression. Not only wasn’t she sharing but she caused pain to another child (two good reasons for some sort of discipline in my mothering opinion).

So… what should I do? Tell her no and hope she doesn’t do it again? Give her a warning and then threaten more punishment? Take her into the bathroom for a “talk?” Leave immediatly with my head going a million miles an hour because I simply have no idea what to do? Ugh…the options are unending!

So, all of you incredibly wise Scottsdale Moms out there reading this post, what would/do you do? Like so many things in parenting I realize there isn’t just one right answer but I’d love your thoughts and words of wisdom, pretty please.



  1. I’m curious what you did, and how it turned out?? It is such a difficult issue, because this is one of the situations where each child’s individuality really plays a huge part in the discipline and its effectiveness. I know with Parker, I would just pull him off to the side and sternly tell him ‘no’ and have some discussion, but he is so verbal and sensitive to other’s feelings. He gets really upset if he thinks he has hurt someone’s feelings. But then the approach would change a little for me if he did it again, he would probably get his hand spanked for grabbing the other child and we’d go home. I hate stuff like this!

    • I would totally agree that it depends on the child’s personality for sure! And only a mom is going to know her children well enough to determine that.

      HOWEVER – that’s one of the hardest parts about disciplining in public, right?! It seems like all of the other moms around assume that you’ll discipline like they would even though they don’t have any idea what type of discipline works best for YOUR child. If you spank and they don’t, you’ll get the evil eye. If you don’t spank and they do you’ll get the evil eye. It’s a no-win situation.

      Thankfully disciplining is more about you as a mom connecting with the heart of your child rather than you gaining favor in the eyes of your friends. But still…

      Ugh… such a hard issue. Still trying to figure it out!

      • No, you are totally right. It is so much more difficult to be consistent and follow your gut when you have a room full of other judgy moms ready to give you ‘advice’

  2. Love this, Steph! I think with discipline discussions it’s SUPER important to remember that age-appropriateness is key (an early two like Nora is very different from my 3yo or my 1yo). I think if it were me I would have physically removed her from the car situation, taking a “time-in” break where we talked about how she hurt somebody and made them cry (emphasis on the power of her actions to affect others, helping her notice others’ feelings = teaching empathy). After that I would probably have given her a little warning (not a threat, but just in the vein of ‘are you ready to play with your friends again? if we’re not able to play together in a way that’s fun for everybody, I guess that means it will be time to go home.’ And then you have to stick with that warning if she’s not able to stick to the agreement.

    I also try always to help my kids understand that their FEELINGS are okay even though their BEHAVIOR is not (“you were really mad and sad because you wanted to play with the car SO badly, right? it’s okay to want the car and it’s okay to feel mad and sad, but it’s not okay to hurt our friends. let’s think about what you could do differently to get a turn with the car next time…”).

    Can’t wait to hear what other moms have to say on this one… 🙂

  3. I know when we’re in a public setting, telling Carter “no” in front of everyone does not change his behavior. So, instead, like the other day at Grandma’s (after he threw something at her out of anger), I took him by the hand and walked him quickly into the bathroom and talked to him. Then asked him to stop crying and apologize to g’ma. I feel like our success happens when I physically pull him away from the scenario.

  4. Steph – Lily is (I think) about 6 months older than Nora and if she had done this I would have taken her immediately away from the situation, giving her a time-out just like we do at home (no warnings for hurting others, if just acting out she does get a warning). When she is done with the time-out I would tell her if she hurts someone again that we will be going home and I would follow-through with that promise if it does happen again. (I also would make Lily go to the child and apologize.) I think a lot of parents don’t want to be inconvenienced in public by their toddler and give empty threats. Following through and being inconvenienced while in a public setting pays off in the long run. Yes, it’s hard to leave the park after only being there for 15 minutes and it took almost an hour to get ready at home and drive there – but in the long run it is worth it.

    ~ Lindsey

    • Thanks for your suggestions Lindsey! I totally agree…I want to be sure that we’re not giving empty threats (although I’ll admit – that’s the easiest thing to do when in public).

  5. I think there are some great suggestions here. I completely agree with Lindsay that we have to always follow through with what we say we are going to do. You cannot give a child as “spirited” as Nora an empty threat.

    Get ready for this sort of situation to unfold frequently, whether its with strangers kids, friends’ kids or her sister. At home, I used spanking as a prefered form of dicipline with my own kids…because at Nora’s age kids don’t have the capacity or the attention span for a discussion about feelings and right and wrong, you can still have the discussion so that they are used to the dialouge, but it will be another year before that will have any effect. What kids her age definately understand is cause and effect. They do an action and it immediately illicits an undesireable consequence.

    So, in public, I typically used what I lovingly referred to as the “Vulcan Teleport”. It is the swift (and I mean lightspeed) and jarring removal of my child from the situation. It does not hurt them in any way, but the speed and intensity of the removal makes them feel as though they were immediately teleported to a different place. Then you say something to the effect of, “We don’t push, grab, hit or hurt other kids when we want something.” After the kids would stop crying (because swift removal from a situation usually resulted in my kids crying) I would take them over and have them apologize and I would apologise to the mother and the child.

    I found it to be a good option for public dicipline, because as you said, spanking in public is a no-win situation, but the Vulcan Teleport is a clear consequence to all who witness it, so the other child and their mother sense that justice has been done 🙂

    You are a great mom Steph! You’re gonna figure this out.

      • Karis,

        I love this method of discipline and agree that just “talking to your child” usually doesn’t work at that young of an age even though you do want to start the dialogue as you said. This is how my husband and I plan to handle these sort of situations unless we are at home to spank. Great input!

    • ha! karis, LOVE your name for it…so seriously, lightheartedly, appropriate 🙂 i’m curious though…did you find it most effective if you teleported 5 feet away (so the offended party could hear/benefit, and for even more speed), or to a private place (for your child’s disciplinary privacy…though not quite as speedy)?

      • Thanks Tina- I know I threw it in there in my comment, but I wasn’t really all that concerned about what other moms thought, or if they could see justice being done. It was just an added benefit. How far away I took my kids really had a lot to do with where we were…also the fact that I had a second child who was a baby when my first was Nora’s age, so I couldn’t go too far. Also, privacy for my child was not my #1 priority. I never humiliate my kids publicly (or privately for that matter) and I never yell at (alright, I yell sometimes…usually I feel justified) or dishonor them, but they publically offended, 🙂 and this is my public dicipline method…

        So for example, if we were at the play area at PV mall, I would tuck the offending child under my arm like a football (this is where it helps that we are physically bigger than them at this stage) and hurdle the 3 foot wall, plop them down just on the other side and say, “You do not hit other kids to get what you want.” Make them sit there until they are done crying and then go apologize. The whole process should take less then 2 minutes.

        here are the rules of engagement for the Vulcan Teleport:
        1.) the VT must take place less than a split second after the offense if possible.
        2.) the VT should not cause physical pain, but should be “intense” enough to startle and disorient the offender. 🙂
        3.) once at the teleported location, offer a clear and brief explanation for the relocation.
        4.) It helps if you are wearing stretchy pants like Captain Kirk and if you sing the Star Wars theme in your head.
        5.) Help your child make an apology if one is needed.
        6.) Follow this all up with a kiss and a hug. My closing statement to my kids is usually something to the effect of, “Mommy loves you more than anything in this world…so much, in fact, that I cannot let you grow up to be a big brat. That’s why I can’t let you get away with what you just did.”

        Hope this helps!

        • That was a gem your Dad taught us years ago. I think specifically in the area of lying. Always made me laugh. I like the “flare” you’ve added. 🙂

    • I love what Karis said about apologizing to the mother… Hadn’t thought of that, however, I can see its importance.

      Yeah, Steph, you’ve done a great job staying on top of Nora to help her learn how to navigate her fiesty disposition. She’s such a joy!

  6. I see this happen all the time, and I mean ALL THE TIME. It is my business after all. What seems to be most effective, and of course depends on the age of a child, is to explain to them that it is not ok to grab, hit, etc. because it hurts the other kids, and then redirect them to another activity, or car in your case, if available. I also make my kids apologize, or if they are in tantrum mode, I apologize, so my child can watch what needs to happen after someone gets hurt. I think few words are neccesary for 2 year olds, but it makes a great difference to show them how to resolve their problem instead of just removing them from the situation.

    • oh no Monica – I totally bet you were there the day this happened with Nora 😉 It was in fact at Imagination Avenue. (blush)

      BTW – so thankful for Imagination Avenue!! Would love to do a playdate there one of these days! I know our SMB readers would love it.

    • Great words, Monica. I think what is so important about your comment is the level of involvement. I see a lot of Moms with a very hands off approach. Like the kids need to work it out themselves. How will they learn that if it isn’t modeled (repeatedly) first?
      We also do a lot of re-do’s in our home (and in public). Repent to the person wronged and then try again with the right tools.

  7. These are all great responses! Of course my counselor-mommy brain is running full speed ahead with thoughts! I love the “Vulcan Transport” hilarious name too! I always think it is best to leave with the child and talk to them away from the location of the offense and then return to apologize. I think it helps calm the child down and also not feel ashamed.

    The only thing I would add to the discussion is about how public discipline makes US feel as Mommies. So often, we want to discipline our children in public because WE feel ashamed or embarrassed that our child did something that was unbecoming. We have to fight the urge to discipline to save our face and only do it for the betterment of the child. Children are going to act out in aggression, not sharing, yelling, and even being mean, it is part of childhood and we should EXPECT it, not be surprised by it. So if Stephanie knows that Nora’s possessiveness over the car is completely in the realm of normal then (even if the other Mama goes all postal for having someone be mean to her child) Stephanie doesn’t have to feel threatened by that and seek to punish Nora in light of the response of others; she only has to do so to help Nora learn how to better handle the situation. Does that make sense?

    The bottom line is that I think public discipline makes the Mama’s feel more uncomfortable than it does the kids. They go back to playing pretty quickly, we on the other hand continue to think about it for hours on end. Make it brief, make it better, and make sure it is behind you so you can both move forward.

  8. Awesome input. What I love about all of you Mommas is your desire to reach your children’s hearts in training. That can only happen at this age with consistency, both in and outside of the home. Keep up the good work ladies!!!!


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