A parent told me recently that she became upset when her children misbehaved because, as she put it, "My children are a reflection of me." A parent who truly believes this statement will respond to the misbehavior of their child because they are embarrassed, not because they are trying to help their child. Some tips are given in this article to assist the parent who may fall into the trap of worrying about what other people are thinking when their children misbehave.
Children are individuals who are capable of making choices/decisions for themselves. But decisions made by young children are not always "thought out" decisions similar to those made by adults. The skill of making "thought out", mature decision takes time to develop.
The following example illustrates the importance of remaining focused on the child and doing what is best for him:
Your family is eating out at a restaurant. Little Johnny decides that he doesn't want to finish his homburg. He wants his desert instead. You inform him that he can have his desert as soon as his homburg is finished. Johnny becomes upset and decides to throw his homburg. This is, of course, a poor choice. But if you look around the restaurant to see who is watching and has seen this "embarrassing" incident, the focus will be in the wrong place. The decision to throw the homburg was not your decision. It was Johnny's decision. The problem is not your problem. It is Johnny's problem. The people in the restaurant are not judging you. They are concerned about Johnny and are glad he is not their kid. Even if others were judging you, who cares. You didn't go to the restaurant to form lasting bonds with the people there. Your child is the important person right now and your child (not you) has a problem. Your child needs your help.
Because you are the most knowledgeable person in the world about your Johnny, you will be able to design a "learning experience" to help him out. You may decide to say, "Poor choice John. Restaurant time is over." If you do, you now have the task of ushering a yelling, screaming child to the car. Again, you could get caught in the trap of worrying about what others are thinking. If you get caught in this trap you will probably say something like. "Stop your crying Johnny!" But Johnny doesn't care what the people in the restaurant are thinking. Because he is immature and doesn't like what is happening to him he will probably scream louder at your request to stop. If you care about John and not what people think, you will give John permission to cry as loud as he wants. Let him know that you understand that he is feeling sad. Let him know that you feel sad when you make poor choices and have to suffer the consequences. But also let him know that staying in the restaurant is no longer a choice. By giving him permission to cry, crying is no longer a tool John can use to control you. The focus remains on Johnny's poor decision, not the desire you have to avoid embarrassment.
The interesting fact is that a few incidents like this will let Johnny know that your concern is for him, not the people who are watching. As a result he will have to make another important decision. Does he follow your counsel to get what he wants, or does he continue his control tactics to get his way. If you can remain consistent, Johnny will eventually learn that the world is a better place when he cooperates. The job of figuring this out is his, not yours. But, if he can eventually get this idea, he is prepared for the real world he will eventually live in.
Another interesting fact is that parents who are concerned about what others are thinking do things that could justify other's negative thinking. When parents do not take action others think, "That poor kid needs parents who will take charge and help him. He needs parents who love him enough to discipline him. He doesn't need wimpy parents that allow or tolerate poor behavior."
Your child is a unique individual that has been given a body that is equipped similar to yours but a brain that is uniquely theirs. As your children make decisions in life, let them know that you are there to guide them, love them, and help them. Let them know that nothing (Even the real or imagined opinion of others) can stop you from helping them learn to be a happy, responsible person.