Thursday, June 9, 2011

To eat, or not to eat (with kids?) That is the question.

There's been a lot of banter for a long time now about when parents should take their children to restaurants, and what to do if their children become fussy, or worse- downright disruptive and rude.  There have even been movements where certain restaurants who are not necessarily inappropriate for a family to dine in are banning children, not unlike the "if you're under four feet, you may not ride" signs you see at Splash Mountain.

I have two children.  Snow white is often added in as the third, if not Blueberry Nights. I'd say I'm alone with them about 70% of the time, and we do go out to eat on a semi-regular basis.  Now, with that said, I'd like you to watch the ABC clip from the show "What would you do?" about out of control kids in "family friendly" restaurants.  Here's the linky.

I'm appalled on multiple counts.  Number one, that a parent has become so overwhelmed that they cannot effectively deal with their children when they reach that point of meltdown.  (Yes, I know those were actors, but none of us can deny that it happens every day.)  Number two, I'm shocked that so many people voted to oust the family, instead of taking initiative.  In this circumstance, I refer to the wait staff and managers.

Having worked in food service, one of the things that was always stressed to us as serve staff is diffuse, diffuse, diffuse.  Now, obviously in certain circumstances there isn't much to be done.  That said, there is always *something* to try, even if it's calling back to the kitchen for some nibblies on the house.  And don't tell me there isn't always a way to do it... forgo your OWN nibblies.  This isn't even for the childrens' sake.  Take one long look at the parent, and if you see a human being at their breaking point, reach out with a lifeline.

The other thing that really, really upset me was the reaction of other parents, or people who otherwise worked with children.* (*not including the teacher at the end.  She was awesome.)

Admittedly, there are often instances where it is inappropriate to scold or intervene in another child's circumstance.  Here, though?  Here is where you will see and have seen me do any of the following:

  • Offer distraction.  Like I said, 2-4 kids at all times, I have a large supply of somewhat melty crayons, wrinkled paper, small toys, board books, and even some individually wrapped nibblies (GOD I love the word "nibblies,") at the bottom of my purse/bag.  Talk to mom or dad first, of course, but if they give the go ahead? Dude.  Matchbox cars and crayons can be replaced for less than a dollar.  Share your distraction wealth, even if it means a quiet, impromptu story time with your "Who's nose is this?" book.

  • Quiet games!  As always, check with mom or dad first, but if Thundercats Are Go, engage not only your own children, but theirs as well.  I spy, Simon Says, hell... even Rock/Paper/Scissors are all great, especially since you're someone they don't know that wishes to pay attention to them.  Under the age of ten, that is a HUGE moment, since they are still at the stage of psychological development that attention = praise, and many kids will happily join in to attain that praise.

  • For children that are older and engaged in downright destructive behavior, I've found that a quiet scolding that is non-ego-damaging can work, and work quickly.  Most often, I go with "You know what?  You are awesome, and I know your mama/daddy raised you to show how awesome you are, instead of acting/doing this.  Could you show me why they think you're as special as you are?"  It's praise more than scold, and it reminds them that their parents ARE proud of them, and that their behavior is perhaps not living up to the best qualities they possess.  Now, that said, I live in the deep south.  I've had neighbors/friends that told me it was okay to strap their kids' asses if necessary.  Regardless of that, though - encourage good behavior with redirecting praise, and you generally won't get an objection from the overwhelmed and exhausted parent because you're NOT berating or punishing, you're acknowledging that their child has GOOD qualities, and you're able to see that through their rowdy behavior.
We're all in the same club, ya'll.  We have created and brought forth these tiny people with their own tiny personalities, egos, strengths and weaknesses.  We are all playing by ear, because none of us have a manual on how to shape our little beings into successful adults.  Therefore, shouldn't we all work together to ad lib the manual when we find a club member who is struggling?

Regardless of what anyone else will say or do, I'd like you to know that I will always, always try to lend you a hand when you need it.


  1. I understand kids can get a little out of control occasionally, in ways their parents didn't anticipate happening on a night out, but I hate when parents let them get out of their seats and run around in the restaurant. More than once I've seen waitstaff come thisclose to spilling hot food on a child who's run right into them. That's a safety issue that some parents don't seem to understand.

  2. You're right - that's a shit situation. It's unfair to *everyone* including the kids themselves. Which is a large part of why I wrote this.

    Now don't get me wrong - there are some people who are just unable to keep their children confined in any way, nor do they care to. Those are NOT the situations I'm referring to. In fact, I should probably put up and addendum that illustrates how to deal with kids whose parents just don't give a shit and would rather text than interact with their children.

    However, if there's a set of parents with a handful of kids and the 'rents themselves are noticeably frazzled... doesn't it seem to make more sense to offer a hand or an idea, instead of just perpetuating the cycle of unhappiness?

  3. I must admit my child runs around in the restaurant and we have to constantly follow her around, ugh. It's hard. It's a good thing when we have other kids there as well who can "babysit".

  4. MummyK, I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond to your comment. I was briefly without a computer, and blogger for iPhone is shite.

    Have you tried to do modified physical activity stuff with her to keep her pre-occupied? Head, should, knees and toes is one that I have had excellent luck with. When I nannied, my boycharge had severe, untreated ADHD. HSK&T, I spy for very specific things, building things at the table with silverware/condiments, bringing legoes... all of those things seem to provide similar stimulation for children who prefer to be bouncing off the walls like little fleshy ping-pong balls instead of sitting and waiting for food. If she likes to escape during eating, we totally have a contest to see who can sculpture their food better. You don't necessarily get to have awesome adult to adult interaction, but if you can multitask, you can usually manage to carry on some semblance of conversation while you work on your mashed potato masterpiece.

    It's unusual for most people and yeah, using broccoli slaw as hair for a mixed veggie zombie head probably violates a lot of peoples' interpretations of "table manners," but in the end it means that you and your kids (and other diners) get to enjoy your meal without playing ring-around-the-waitress. ;)