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Coping with embarrassing behavior
February 2, 2014, 2:41 pm

When you have a child who throws tantrums or is disrespectful in public, you might want to curl up and hide from the embarrassment. Instead try these tactics to cope with your child’s behavior.

You are not a mind-reader: When you are feeling judged by others, remember you cannot read other people’s mind. Stop the tape that is playing in your head and move on; this is part of the process of learning how to talk to yourself in a way that promotes calmness, rather than panic.

Focus on the behavior: Whether you’re embarrassed, afraid, irritated or angry at something your child has done, you have to stay focused on what they need from you at that moment, and not what somebody else thinks. Keep the focus on your child and try not to get distracted. When kids act out in any way, they are trying to tell you that they need some help.

Don’t justify yourself: Try not to justify yourself and make excuses when your child acts out or behaves inappropriately. Instead, make directive statements. Let’s say you’re at a party, and your child gets angry and starts yelling when you ask him to go sit down. Don’t invite people to offer their opinions or criticism. Just say something like, “I’m sorry, my son needs me right now”.  When you say it that way, you’re not defending yourself against anything; you’re really just making clear, positive statements.

Have a plan: If you have a plan in place for when your child acts out, you are going to feel less embarrassed and more in control. Let us say your family is going to a neighborhood barbecue. Before you leave, take your child aside and say, “Remember, if you swear at me, yell or are rude, we’re going to go home and you are going to get a consequence for that behavior”, and then follow through.

Short-term strategies: When planning ahead for situations or outings where your child has acted out in the past, the strategies of ‘Avoid’ and ‘Escape’ can be very helpful. This means you should ‘Avoid’ people, stimulation and situations for which your child has not yet developed coping skills, and ‘Escape’ situations in which your child’s coping skills break down. If your child can’t cope with the stimulation of a supermarket, you should avoid it for the time being, but you will teach him to deal with the stimulation of shopping eventually. The same goes for Escape. If you’re at the mall, escaping that situation is a great short term response to a tantrum or screaming match.

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