Getting through tough situations

A crash course

Misbehavior outside the home

As you know all too well – problem behavior can occur at the most inconvenient moments. Especially when you’re not at home. Planning ahead for tough situations is key.

Identify tough situations in advance

Everyone's got tricky moments to deal with, and for a lot of parents it's one or more of the following.

  • Car journeys
  • Shopping trips
  • When you’re on the phone
  • Eating out
  • Visiting friends or family
  • Other social situations
These situations are difficult because:

  • They can be boring for children
  • Your attention is elsewhere
  • There is pressure to act quickly
  • There may be scrutiny on your parenting
  • You don’t have a time-out space as you do at home
Time these situations for success

Where you can, plan these situations around your child’s natural rhythms. Avoid moments in the day when they’ll normally be tired or hungry.

Keep it realistic. If it’s shopping trips that are a challenge, pick a short shopping trip after a home practice to increase chances for a successful first trip.

Getting through tough situations in 5 steps

Plan the plan

Tough situations require planning ahead. Make a list of challenging situations outside the home. Prepare ‘boredom-busters’ – fun activities to keep your child engaged so they are less likely to seek attention by acting out.

Plan rewards for positive behavior and consequences for misbehavior. When thinking about consequences, plan where you can use time-out in the situation. Remember that time-out can be adapted to different situations. Where it is not possible to do time-out, a delayed time-out when you arrive home may be the best option. For older children, you can also plan meaningful consequences for misbehavior such as losing an hour of screen time when back home.


Preparing your child for challenging situations ahead of time will reduce the chances of misbehavior. Practice the situation with your child first making it a fun and positive practice run. It’s all about preparing your child in advance and ensuring they know what to expect.

Explain the plan

Remind your child of what’s ahead. Explain what’s happened in the past... the good and the bad. Prompt your child to describe how they should behave. Discuss planned rewards and consequences of misbehavior. When using time-out outside the home, show the child where they will be going for a time-out, so they know what to expect.

Coach as you go

Draw on your tool kit during challenging situations. Keep an eye out for opportunities to reinforce and reward positive behavior – remember, catch your child being good! Manage misbehavior on the go -approach, give stop-start instructions, repeat once, then time-out if needed.


Checking-in with your child after any challenging situation is an important learning opportunity. It’s a time to reinforce what went well and reward any positive behavior. It’s also your chance to discuss misbehavior and outline what could be different next time you are in that situation.