6 Ways to Handle Behavior Issues in Public Places

By Erica Patino

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Learning and attention issues can involve social challenges like talking out of turn or getting impatient in long lines. Here’s how to deal with common behavior issues in public places.

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Mother offering her preschool age daughter a taste of an ice cream cone
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Behavior Issue #1: Getting Upset by Unexpected Changes

While some kids can go with the flow, children with learning and attention issues may get upset by the unexpected—such as going to a restaurant and being given the wrong order or going to the movies and discovering the one they want to see is sold out. Your child may not realize how upset he’s getting. It can help to talk to your child about his “emotional thermometer” and ask, “Is your emotional thermometer rising?” You may also want to suggest he count to 10 or take deep breaths when he begins to get upset.

Young mother shopping with her preschool age son in a grocery store
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Behavior Issue #2: Begging and Nagging for Things at the Store

“But Mom, I want that toy! I want it!” Kids with learning and attention issues may continue to whine and beg because they have trouble picking up on social cues. Your child might not notice or understand that you’re getting annoyed. You can respond to the nagging by saying firmly and calmly, “We’ve already discussed it, and you can’t get the toy today.” Then stop talking about the subject and keep moving through the store. Don’t back down. If you do, you may confuse your child or end up encouraging him to repeat the negative behavior.

School age children on an airplane leaning over the back of their seat to talk to the passengers behind them
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Behavior Issue #3: Fidgeting During Quiet Events

Piano recitals, school talent shows, religious ceremonies—there are many events where your child is supposed to sit still. But he may do a lot of fidgeting or getting out of his chair. That can be disruptive to others. While you may wish your child would just sit still, studies show that kids with attention issues are actually better able to focus when they fidget. Help keep your child happy by bringing a book, sketch pad or other item that won’t distract others.

Group of children waiting in line to order at an outdoor food stand
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Behavior Issue #4: Getting Angry While Waiting in Line

You want to go to the zoo or ride the roller coaster at an amusement park. But there are long lines everywhere. Some children with learning and attention issues lack impulse control, so waiting in line can be tough. Try bringing comic books or a tablet computer to keep your child busy while waiting. Or play a game where he runs to a signpost and back as you time him, so he can keep moving. Also try going to kid-friendly places at off-peak times when the lines are shorter.

Close up of a group of children in a school library listening to a teacher read
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Behavior Issue #5: Talking Too Loudly or Interrupting Others

Children are expected to keep their voices down in libraries, museums and other places. But kids with learning and attention issues may blurt things out or not realize they’re talking too loudly. Try to work out a signal that means “Please lower your voice.” You might touch your child’s shoulder or tap your cheek. If he keeps talking loudly, take him outside to let him talk for a bit. Or if he has lots of questions for the tour guide, have him ask you quietly and write them down so he can get answers later.

Boy sitting by himself listening to headphones and concentrating
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Behavior Issue #6: Having a Meltdown

Some kids with learning and attention issues can be extra-sensitive to noise, light and lots of people. Depending on your child’s needs, you might want to bring headphones. You may also want to find the nearest bathroom or exit so your child can get away for a few minutes and calm down. (Keep in mind that if your child has sensory processing issues, a public restroom might not be a good place to escape to. The bright lights and automatic flushing toilets could make a meltdown worse.)

Getting to an event early and carefully choosing activities could also help him feel more comfortable. Get tips on making family entertainment fun for everyone.

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About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Molly Algermissen

Molly Algermissen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.

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