9 Things We Can Learn from the Kids Crying in Restaurants Debate

What everyone can do when kids have meltdowns in eateries

kids dressed like grownups restaurant
Kids are not mini-grownups--one of the things to remember about kids eating in restaurants. Andrew Rich/Getty Images

Every so often, a story about a sticky parenting situation makes the headlines and circulates like wildfire on social media. The story about a toddler crying in a Portland, Maine diner was one such event. A 21-month-old child was "fussing" (according to the mother) or crying for more than 40 minutes, and then for another 10 to 15 minutes after the owner gave them to-go boxes and asking them to leave (according to the restaurant's owner) in the crowded diner on a busy Saturday morning.

 

The owner of the diner posted about the incident on Facebook, setting off a firestorm. The diner owner was criticized by some for using colorful language to describe the event and referring to the baby as "beast," "rotten," and "it." She also admitted to yelling from behind the counter, "That needs to stop!" while pointing and looking at the baby. The mother of the toddler who cried posted her own response, saying that she didn't think they were causing a disturbance and that they would have taken the baby outside if they had thought they were bothering people, and taking issue with the owner for yelling at her baby instead of coming over and politely telling them that their baby was being disruptive.

The two sides clearly have very different recollections about what happened, but that hasn't stopped thousands of people from commenting online. Many are praising the diner owner for taking action to prevent other diners from being subjected to a crying child and criticizing the parents for not taking action.

Others have lambasted the diner owner for yelling at a toddler and calling her names. So what can the rest of us learn from this unfortunate and now-viral incident?

  1. It's clear that the kids crying/tantruming/misbehaving in public issue is one that people have very strong opinions about. That's because almost every parent out there knows exactly what it's like to have an upset child on their hands in a public place. And almost all of us--both parents and non-parents alike--have experienced being on the other side of the situation, trapped near a screaming, crying, tantruming child or one that's misbehaving while the parents do absolutely nothing to discipline the child or remove the child from the situation. (I can still remember being trapped on a three-hour flight while a child (who looked about 3 or 4 years old) kicked my seat and cried and whined for most of the flight while the parent did nothing to stop this behavior.)
     
  1. Activity bags are crucial when dining out. Sure, some family-friendly restaurants might have crayons, paper, and even toys on hand. But if you're a parent, having a few things in an activity bag--such as puzzles, books, sticker books for older kids and a tablet with headphones for kids of all ages to watch a video quietly--is essential. Do not assume the restaurant will have something to entertain your child in case you have to wait. And if you have a very young child who's going to fuss when she's hungry (which was reportedly one of the factors in the Maine diner situation), bring some snacks, too.
     
  2. Parents need to remove a crying child from the situation. If nothing is working, parents need to give a child time to calm down outside. While some situations, like being on a plane, make it difficult to take the child outside to hit the reset button, being in a restaurant generally means you can give a child a chance to calm down, away from other diners. If it's raining or too cold outside, you can always take the food to go, or have one parent take the child to the car or the entryway. Not doing anything? Not an option.
     
  1. Kids are not mini-adults. Younger kids can get tired easily, need to snack more often, and could be overwhelmed by the noise and hustle and bustle of a crowded restaurant. If your child is not able to be calm and sit quietly at the restaurant, he may be just feeling out-of-sorts rather than being defiant or cranky for no reason.
     
  2. The restaurant staff (and other patrons) should start with sympathy and understanding before judging or interacting with the parents. Give the parents a chance to calm the child down first. If the parents are not making any attempts to quiet the child or if nothing is working despite the parents trying, the waitstaff or manager should ask the parents if they can do anything to help. If the parents then refuse to do anything and other diners are continuing to be subjected to crying, the restaurant can then ask the parents to take the child out, and if that doesn't work, strongly but clearly suggest that they take the food to go.
     
  3. It's always a good idea to teach kids restaurant manners early. You can't expect a 5-year-old to automatically know how to sit still in his seat or say thank you and please to the waitstaff. That's why it's best to start early and practice, even when you're home. (Kids should get into the habit of saying, "Thank you" and "Please" when mom or dad serve them food.) These basic but important habits include treating restaurant staff respectfully, staying in one's own seat and not running around, and using good table manners.
     
  4. Posting about a frustrating situation on social media isn't going to make it better. This is especially the case if both sides remember the events very differently or don't acknowledge their part in making the situation more inflamed than it had to be.
     
  5. Manners and empathy help make situations better. Both parents and restaurant staff can do their part to be courteous and polite, and try to make the best of a difficult situation. Fellow restaurant diners have the right to eat without having to tolerate a child who's crying or loud or running around and being ill-mannered. But if the parents are making an effort to discipline or calm the child, waitstaff and other patrons can always offer the parents help.
     
  6. It's all too easy to judge. Whether you're one of the people in the situation or someone reading about the story and commenting online, it's easy to pass judgement and talk about what the parent or the people affected by the crying/tantruming/misbehaving child should or should not have done. In this age of online comments, we should all be mindful about doing less judging and being helpful in a stressful parenting situation instead. (Read, "5 Things We Can Do Instead of Criticizing Other Parents.")

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