One of the letters I’ve received asked a question most adults will face periodically. She wanted to know if there was anything she could do to discipline other people’s children who misbehaved in public.
Here’s what she wrote:
“I taught my children manners when they were very young, and I never brought them to nice restaurants until I was sure they knew how to behave. I’m appalled by how so many parents just sit back and let their little ones disrupt other people’s dinners that they paid hard-earned money for. It’s getting so bad that my husband and I don’t enjoy going out to our favorite restaurant anymore.”
There isn’t much you can do to change the manners of other people’s children. If you speak directly to the child, the parents will probably be furious. If you say something to the parent, you’re likely to wind up in a facedown that could quickly escalate.
“I can sympathize. My husband and I enjoy dining out occasionally, and a screaming child isn’t good for conversation or digestion. It’s especially difficult for people who took the time to teach their children proper manners to have to face those who didn’t. You have two choices for the future: You can talk to the restaurant manager and ask to be seated in a more private area, or you can find another restaurant with a more intimate ambience.”
What Most Parents Want
I believe that most parents want their children to have good manners, but they don’t always know what to do. When I see a frazzled mom of tantrum-throwing toddlers, my heart goes out to her. I’ve actually tried to console worried parents, letting them know that this moment will pass.
Responses vary. If they appear open and receptive, I add that they can use this experience as a teaching opportunity to change future behavior. If they appear to resent my intrusion, I back away and give them as much personal space as possible.
There are quite a few different types of restaurants available to diners. With so many family-friendly dining establishments, there is no reason for parents to bring their children to fine dining places until they are ready and able to behave in an appropriate manner and have mastered proper table manners. Many restaurants have policies about children, and if you encounter a misbehaving child, the restaurant management will take care of it very quickly.
Casual dining places are more open to families, so you may want to request a quiet booth or table if the sounds and behavior of small children bother you. If they aren’t crowded, the host or hostess will probably accommodate you. Don’t forget to leave a generous tip any time you have a special request.
If you encounter disruptive children after you have been seated, discreetly ask to be moved. Since the manager doesn’t want to lose your business, if there is another table on the other side of the restaurant, you’ll probably get what you ask for.
Shopping Malls and Grocery Stores
If you shop at malls or grocery stores, you’ll probably have to deal with other people’s unruly children from time to time. First of all, remember that the parents are probably more annoyed than you, so try to be empathetic.
Unless one of the little ones physically harms you, don’t say anything to the parent, or you might find yourself in a battle with moms and dads who are already at their wit’s end. If a child knocks you over or physically hurts you in any way, take your complaint to the store manager and let him or her deal with it.
Your children will want to have their friends over, and of course you’ll graciously welcome them. This is when you’ll see what kind of etiquette training other parents do. Unfortunately, many moms and dads don’t realize how their offspring reflect on their families when they’re away from home, so you’ll probably see some bad behavior from time to time.
While I don’t recommend correcting other people’s children when you’re out and about, I do believe it’s okay when they are in your home. As long as you don’t nitpick, you can tell them to use their “inside voices” when they get loud and not to jump on the furniture.
If you hear them using foul language, you can tell them that those words aren’t allowed in your home. Most children will at least try to comply, but if they don’t, there’s nothing wrong with taking them home or calling their parents and letting them know that it’s time to pick up their child.