Should I Discipline my Child in Front of Other People?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

If you work in a large office and come in late, it would be embarrassing if the boss yelled at you for your tardiness in front of the whole office. Although you do need to correct your behavior, by berating you in front of everyone, the boss has acted in an aggressive and shaming way. The same holds true when you discipline your child in front of others. Having an audience watch while you discipline a child adds an extra element to discipline: you embarrass the child publicly. While some behavior calls for comment from a parent, parenting experts often feel it’s best to take the child somewhere private to discipline them.

A child may focus on embarrassment when disciplined in public.
A child may focus on embarrassment when disciplined in public.

The goal when you discipline your child is to correct a behavior. With distractions, like an audience of friends or strangers in a grocery store, it can be very challenging to actually accomplish your goal. The child is likely to focus more on his or her embarrassment rather than on the real purpose for the discipline. So it may not only be a shame-producing way to discipline a child, but also an ineffective one.

Finding a quiet place to discipline a child is ideal.
Finding a quiet place to discipline a child is ideal.

If you are in a public area, like a grocery store, child development experts suggest leaving the store, to minimize distractions. If at a friend or family member’s house, finding a quiet room where you can discipline is most desirable. When necessary, if a child is really misbehaving, throwing a fit, or has been very aggressive towards others, it may be best to take the child home. Most experts suggest avoiding having an argument with the child while driving the child home. Actually, driving home and not paying attention to the child when possible, can give you a cool-down and a time to think about the consequences for behavior.

It can be helpful with young children to remind them of the behavior you expect when you are in public.
It can be helpful with young children to remind them of the behavior you expect when you are in public.

It can be helpful with young children to remind them of the behavior you expect when you are in public. This can help avoid having to discipline your child in public. Before exiting a car to have a family dinner you might remind them you expect them not to criticize Aunt Flora’s cooking if they don’t care for it. If you’re planning a play date with a child’s friend, you might remind them you expect them to share toys and only say nice things. There are numerous rules for behavior in certain settings which may warrant a reminder or two before you actually let your child loose in the setting.

A child who is physically or verbally abused is more likely than her peers to suffer depression and anxiety.
A child who is physically or verbally abused is more likely than her peers to suffer depression and anxiety.

With very young children, under the age of three or four, you may occasionally need to remind them of things in a public venue. On a play date, if a child is not sharing, you could simply say, “We share our toys on play dates.” This is not exactly the same as embarrassing the child but simply reminding them of the rule.

As well as not remembering to discipline your child in public, you should not discuss your child in a negative way in public, and especially in front of the child. Saying, “John still has potty accidents,” or “Both my sons are getting Fs in school” are shame statements, and a passive-aggressive way of approaching parenting problems. Similarly, parents discussing or arguing about discipline in front of a child weakens authority. If you have disputes with a spouse about the way you discipline your child, these conversations are best kept private, or saved until after children have gone to bed.

Choosing to discipline your child in front of other siblings is also a mixed bag. On the one hand, it can be beneficial for other children to see family rules consistently supported and enforced. Yet highly competitive siblings may “gloat” if one sibling gets in trouble. With older children, discipline is best a private matter between yourself and the child, and should not be discussed in front of siblings.

Children should be talked to directly and calmly when disciplining so they can understand why their behavior is wrong.
Children should be talked to directly and calmly when disciplining so they can understand why their behavior is wrong.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I think it's okay to *correct* your child in front of other people, like telling him to put down a toy or let go of the door. That's an immediate issue that needs to be addressed. As far as corporal punishment or a verbal dressing down is concerned, I think parents need to do that in private. I remember getting spanked in a crowded mall at Christmastime for some minor thing and I could see all of those people looking at me while it was happening. It was humiliating.

I'm not saying I didn't deserve to be corrected for the thing I did. But seeing the looks on all of those strangers' faces really bothered me. I couldn't explain my side of the story, obviously. Right up until then, I was enjoying the Christmas holidays and then it just stopped being fun because of the shame. I say parents should pick their battles and decide if the benefits of the disciplinary action outweigh the immediate pain or humiliation they are about to inflict on the child.


Growing up, my father at parties often announced to everyone about my having failed an exam. He would stand me next to him, talk about me doing horrible, when I'd simply gotten a 75 or an 80, because that was never good enough. But it wasn't just that he would announce it and talk about me in front of other family members, but he'd then turn to me and say: "Tell them, tell them why you failed the test. Go ahead, tell them. Go ahead, tell them how much you didn't study!" Of course, this made me feel completely and utterly like a failure.

He would then later say to us, "I did that, so next time you'll study harder. You don't see them telling us about your cousins doing bad, do you? That's because unlike you, they're always studying, doing what they have to do!" Meanwhile, so did I. It was just that I didn't understand the material and if I went to him, he would yell and get angry when I couldn't understand the way he was describing something. So he would describe it in the same manner, as if that was any help at all. He continued treating me like this, with any failure, never once telling them how proud he was of me when I actually had achieved something. He did this from elementary school up until junior high. He did this thinking this would make me study more, so that he wouldn't do this to me again in public; instead it made me truly not want to care about doing the work. So by junior high, I gave up doing everything right, homework, studying, etc. Because by then, I was fed up with not reaching his impossible standards of acing every exam.

In junior high, because I began to slack off out of anger and mere frustration at my father's idea of an A+ student, I began to receive letters from teachers about me not handing in homework. He then began to monitor everything I did. I was like a bug under his magnifying glass. I'd come home, and he'd be sitting there waiting, and he'd ask to see my book. He would then look over my homework list, and demand to see it once it was finished. If there were any eraser marks or words scribbled out, he demanded it be done over until he deemed it presentable. He would force me to read chapters of a text book and then quiz me later, even if it wasn't what we were learning in class. He would yell and shout at me to return to my room to read it over if I didn't get things right. We were constantly at odds.

Years later when I reached high school, I began to do better. Not because of him, but because I was tired of dealing with his dictatorship. So I studied harder, I did better, 10 times better. I really turned it around. I was sometimes average, sometimes above. It truly depended on the subject. If we'd (my sister and I) done well, passed exams and finished our homework, reports or projects, our father still wouldn't let us go out. He would list every reason from chores (we completed) to studying more (when we didn't even have an exam to study for), every excuse to get us to not go. We'd argue for an hour or two before one of our friends had to step in to tell him that we were doing amazing in school and that it won't kill us to hang out for one night. For her, he budged, but for us he would yell at us for as long as it took for us to give up.

We never did anything bad. We never cut school, got into fights, etc. because we were constantly afraid he would find out about it (Now it wasn't just words he used to discipline us growing up. He used his hands and his belt). By my junior year when I was looking for colleges, he once said to me: "We have to make sure you can even get in to college!" Basically, he was spitting all of my hard work into my face, as if no college would even consider me. So I wound up not applying to many colleges, simply because from a young age he'd already instilled in me the fear of not being good enough.

All this still affects me to this day. Whenever someone compliments me about something, I don't feel that what I did was good enough to receive a compliment for. I don't feel that I'm good enough, or that I'll ever excel at what I love because he constantly downgraded every dream I ever had, from art to writing to singing (all things I've always excelled at). Granted, people don't always make a living off of these things. But I feel if he'd been one of those parents who were constantly telling me to always do my best, to never stop doing what I love that maybe I'd be filled with this great ambition. Maybe I wouldn't feel constantly afraid of taking any risk for fear that I won't be good enough. I constantly hold myself back, because I feel like I'll never be good enough at anything.

All of this has hindered me, in my work, in my social life and in my love life (lack of one) because I feel I have nothing of value to offer to anyone.


Being disciplined by my parents was always a public display at home. My parents used corporal punishment with me, as did their parents with them. Whenever I was whipped or hit, my siblings teased or laughed at me. This created a lasting effect on our relationships as sisters and brothers forever.

I felt embarrassed and humiliated of course, and waited to get even when their turn came. There was no loving relationship between me and my parents. I could not love them over the violence they heaped upon me.

They never learned the purpose of true discipline. Discipline was forever a punishment for the smallest infraction, never a learning experience or a correction for my betterment.


Do you discipline your child in front of other siblings? Or let your other siblings chime in?

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