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Restaurant Etiquette for Kids

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Toddler Sitting Still at Restaurant

Aug 2012

I recently had lunch with a former colleague at a restaurant and had my 2.5 year old in tow. We chose a restaurant which I knew my son would eat at and could handle any loud noises he would make at the table. As soon as my son sat in the booster, he started to play with his utensils. This is his normal MO, but I remove anything that can break should they fall (ie. ceramics). We order quickly and while we're waiting, my son starts to sing loudly, and tap his utensils against the table. I try to get my son to settle down, but I came unprepared (no crayons and paper, no books). My colleague starts to eye my son, and I can already see the judgment starting. As soon as the food comes, my toddler sits and eats (mainly) on his own, but this only lasts til he's full, which, of course, happens within 10 to 15 minutes of eating. As soon as he's done, he starts to squirm in his booster and say, ''All done'' and whines to get out. After another ten minutes of trying to get him to sit still so my colleague can finish the rest of her lunch, I finally let him down, and he immediately runs to the restaurant window and eventually starts to pound the glass (at which point I haul him back to me). My colleague never says a word to me about it, but smiles sympathetically at me, which makes me feel very embarrassed about my son's restaurant behavior.

I'd like to know how other parents have trained their active toddlers to sit still at restaurants, or how to handle them so that the adults can manage to at least finish their meals with minimal disruption. Having crayons and books for him after he's done eating only buys me ten minutes, tops. We have trained my toddler at home to be excused after he's finished eating, but obviously this doesn't translate at a restaurant, which probably is confusing to him. Hungry Mom


Dear hungry mom, I don't think it's realistic to expect that a 2-year-old will sit still in a public place for the duration of an adult meal. When my kids were younger, we stopped going out to eat almost completely until the youngest was closer to 4. It just wasn't worth the pain for all the reasons you describe. I don't think you should feel that your child is ''bad'' for his age - I just think you're feeling the (possible) judgment of others and are feeling self-conscious about it.

As you suggested, distractions like crayons will help, but only for a while, and you'll still be having to constantly manage his entertainment. (''Look! A doggy! Why don't you color the doggy now! Do you want the blue crayon or the red one?'') Many parents also go the iPad route. (But again, a short-term fix.) My suggestion though is to just take restaurants off the table so to speak for at least a year, until he's old enough to have a bit more self- control, and to enjoy the ''dining out'' experience for its own sake. (i.e., getting to have special foods in a special place). So for lunches like this, I would either suggest postponing meals with other adults until a time when you have childcare scheduled, or inviting them to your home (or a park or outdoor area) and bringing in takeout. It's not the same as the dining-out experience, of course, but you know now that it's not worth going to a ''nice'' place if you're going to feel self-conscious the whole time. So just explain that to your colleague in advance. ''I would love to see you, but we won't be able to talk and relax at a restaurant if Johnny is there, so can I pick up some Thai food and meet you at the Rose Garden?''

I finished grad school when my son was 4 and my daughter 2, and my niece an infant. My parents wanted to go out for a celebratory lunch (in a restaurant), but with all those kids that would not have been my idea of fun and celebration. Instead we ordered a big catered meal from Rick and Ann's, and picked it up and ate it at the house. No table service obviously but it was SO much more enjoyable for the adults to just let the kids run around and do their thing and eat 2 or 3 bites of this and that instead of trying to keep them still and non-disruptive. So I would suggest you try to make that your default strategy until your son is at least a little older. Have patience - restaurants will return to your life!


Sounds like completely normal toddler behavior. I think the ones you see who behave better aren't 'trained' that way, it's just their personality, they happen to be more compliant quiet children. It's hard to control toddler behavior too much.

Honestly my son is 7.5 and still acts just how you describe! No it's not exactly normal at this age but on the other hand I know of some of his friends who act the same, all active or hyper active boys. Trust me there is nothing you could motivate or threaten him with to comply longer than 1 or 2 minutes, so we don't eat out where we might disturb others.

Does your colleague have kids? If not then forget it, they just can't possibly understand. Or perhaps they have girls - we know plenty of parents with girls only who do NOT get that not all children are easy-quiet-still-neat like their girls. anon


I don't take my child to restaurants. It is a waste of money because one of us doesn't get to enjoy our food and I'm constantly worried he's going to ruin other people's experiences. We usually end up walking him around outside before the food comes and after he's done eating - leaving someone sitting alone for the majority of the meal.

We can go to sushi and he'll sit for 15 minutes because he's eating edamame and occasionally he'll go to Chinese because he loves to eat noodles slowly.

Otherwise, we only go out to eat at places with lawns that he can run on (there are like three places on our list). Gigi


We don't go to restaurants, or if we do, only places with fast service and we eat fast ourselves. Try a picnic at a park with take out if you need to have a meal out with a friend. Or hire a sitter. I figure maybe 4 or 5 is a more realistic age to sit through a meal. Eventually they will sit still
Welcome to life with an active 2.5 year old! My son is almost 2 and will not sit still in a restaurant either (and does exactly the things your son does, yelling, running, banging silverware). My son is a super energetic, ''spirited'' child and sitting for a meal longer than 10 minutes is impossible whether at home or out. (You're lucky crayons will buy you 10 min, it'll buy me maybe 4). While you could try to ''train'' him, I'm not sure it'll do anything. We pretty much just accept that we'll have to take turns walking my son around the restaurant and only eat out when grandma and grandpa are here so there are others to share in the toddler watching. Although some people might have advice, I think it's a pretty big request to ask a 2.5 year old to sit still for a 30 min + meal, especially if he's a very active boy. I'm not counting on my son sitting still for that long for a long time and I've accepted that. My son is who he is and I love his crazy, wild ways. One day his curiosity, eagerness, and tenacity will be a big boon in his life. Your colleague also doesn't sound like someone with kids because if I saw you with your son I'd smile and wink. Try to just deal and certainly don't be embarrassed. Your son sounds perfect to me! Marne
We trained our kids to sit at table at home until everyone was done, so did not have the challenges you are describing at restaurants as that was their expectation with meals. Not sure if you can train them two ways or not. We also tell them when we eat at someone's house that ''it's their house, their rules'' so they must follow what the hostess says and must ask the hostess if they can be excused if they see other kids leaving the table. Good luck!!
Your question reminds me of some kind of joke: How do you train a toddler to sit still at a restaurant? Wait until he's not a toddler anymore!

It's unrealistic to expect a toddler to sit still at a restaurant. Really, don't bring him if you expect a nice quiet chat with another adult.

That doesn't mean I think you should never bring small children to restaurants. You just have to have realistic expectations of what such a young person can do. Keep bringing your son to restaurants for the practice. Our son eats very slowly, so I often ask for his plate to be brought first. That gives us about 10 minutes of play time with crayons or toys and about 30 minutes of eating time, if the food is sufficiently yummy to keep my kid eating. My husband and I take about 20 minutes to eat, and then we all finish around the same time.

Our best trick has been to stock a few little bags (like the clear zippered bags that Robies shoes come in) with special toys that only come out at restaurants. Mostly these are $10 sets of plastic animals, mini trains, etc. But we do have one set of Magformers ($49) which are a magnetic toy. Very fun, and less likely to get lost under the table.

Mostly though, you just have to wait this period out. enjoying restaurants again with my 4-year-old


I have two children, now in their teens and when they were little we either didn't go out or got a sitter. I suggest you do the same. Invite your colleague to your house for lunch where your child can roam free and be entertained, or get a sitter so you (and she/he) can enjoy a lunch without the distraction - and frankly so you don't disturb the other diners. The key to getting your child to act appropriately in a restaurant is to start taking them when they are old enough to act appropriately and to listen to your instructions, 2.5 is not that age and all you accomplish is stressing yourself out and irritating those around you. keep the toddler home
I just want to say your toddler seems normal to me and his behavior is totally within the limits of appropriate for a child that age. The issue you pose really isn't about getting him to sit still for me but more about the fact that sometimes what we, as adults, want or wish to do, is incompatible with reasonable expectations of a child of a certain age and developmental or temperamental capacity.

Kids are all different-my friend could take her little boy to restaurants all the time while taking our boy was a set up for disaster. I realized quickly that having him in that situation put all of us in an uncomfortable position and stopped doing it. Do you have the right to eat in peace with a colleague-yes; can you do that effectively with your son right now-no. That's OK. I would periodically try out a restaurant and sometimes we'd have a good time and sometimes we'd have to rush through the meal, take the food to go, abort mission asap.

Also, I sense some embarrassment or feelings around the colleague. If she doesn't have kids, just think to yourself that if one day she does, on that day she will get it. People without kids just don't get it the way people with kids do. Or if she has kids and they don't behave that way, well lucky her, maybe she has a kid like my friend and not like me. Either way, sorry to say, you set yourself up. We all do it by accident or by hope sometimes. It's OK. Just don't make a habit of it. We do ourselves and our kids no favors to try to control them in ways they aren't developmentally ready for. Sorry for your crappy lunch. It happens. been there


I have a 4yo and a 6yo, so I feel your pain! My kids are finally old enough to sit politely at a nice restaurant for up to an hour, but they still need crayons or books and someone to take the 4yo on a walk towards the end of the meal. It does get better, but when they were toddlers, we just didn't go to that many restaurants.

It sounds like your son behaved himself about as well as any toddler could. If it's not part of your usual routine to have him sit at the table for more than 10 minutes at home, he isn't going to do it when you go out. I would suggest having get-togethers with your friends at your house (with take-out food if it's too hard to cook), or going to a family friendly place with outdoor seating during a non-peak time, where it isn't a big deal if he gets up from the table.


Speaking as the parent of older children... your son is the most mature and capable he has ever been, and he may seem big in your eyes, but I think you're asking too much. I don't know of ANY toddlers who can sit quietly for the time it takes two adults to have lunch in a restaurant. Why not swap childcare with a friend for an hour and then enjoy a relaxed lunch with your colleague? JM
I am writing this as the mother of a 5-year-old boy and as someone who waited tables for nearly a decade.

Sitting still in a restaurant for more than 25 minutes a pretty high expectation for a 2.5 year old. For us, a successful restaurant meal at this age was: get in, order food quickly, eat, pay, leave, not much lingering. If you want to continue your conversation with your friend, get dessert to go and head to a park.

Still, this is a great age to start practicing ''restaurant manners.'' Practice at home by playing restaurant. There's a wonderful and funny kids book called ''Sheep Out to Eat'' that is a great conversation-starter about how NOT to behave in a restaurant. Have a conversation in advance with your child about things they can do when they are waiting for the meal to start or end at a restaurant, and bring appropriate materials. Practice at kid-friendly places like the Ikea restaurant or your favorite casual/pizza place.

As a waiter, I noticed that the most well-behaved children were engaged in conversation by the adults that they were with, and were often prepared with a small quiet toy, pen & paper, or other materials. The adult conversations did not have to be 100% child-centric, but the successful adults were somewhat flexible and inclusive. The most poorly behaved children, in my observation, were completely left out of table conversation, and were not provided with anything besides utensils and condiments with which to occupy themselves. It is simply unsafe to allow any child to walk away from a table or play on a floor in a restaurant. Glassware was broken regularly in the dining room of every restaurant I've ever worked in, and there were always some remaining shards swept up at the end of the day. A co-worker once tripped over a child who raced through an aisle, and was severely burned because she was carrying two pots of hot coffee, and dumped them on herself in her effort to avoid the child. Anyone who has worked in restaurants will tell you plenty of other stories like this.

It's useful to always have a small surprise toy in a cupboard or glove box that you can grab as a distraction for unanticipated situations. A pencil case with stickers/markers/notepad, a mini-puzzle, a party favor they had forgotten they had, or a mini-pack of legos has worked wonders for me.


That sounds like totally normal age appropriate 2.5 year old restaurant behavior to me. It is what it is. If you have a smart phone, you could try letting him watch a cartoon on youtube to buy yourself a few more minutes. It gets better after they turn 3. Ours was a handful in restaurants at 2!! anon
You will probably get many responses to this. I think your expectations for good restaurant behavior from a 2.5 year old toddler are not reasonable. Personally, I'm saving restaurants for when my kids are old enough for it to be enjoyable for the whole family. Takeout for now
I don't mean to be harsh, but, ummmm..he's 2!!! This is pretty common for a little guy. I'm surprised he hasn't acted this way before-you've been lucky! Between the ages of 8 months and 4, we didn't have nice quiet meals at restaurants with my twin boys. They are 5 now, and meals out are generally good experiences. They know how to act, and if they start to act up, we are OUT OF THERE in a few minutes. They know leaving the restaurant is a bad thing, but I wouldn't expect a 2-year-old to ''get it.'' I think you're expecting a lot of a 2-year-old to sit for a long meal. Realistic Mama
I, too, think that what you describe is pretty normal behavior for a toddler in a restaurant. I have 2 kids. One can sit still and the other can't. What was I going to do? I ''trained'' them the same way.

But I just sometimes really WANTED to go to a restaurant for dinner! So I eventually found those restaurants that are ''kid-friendly.'' I don't really like that expression myself, but it just seems to me that some places are and some places aren't.

I found:
--Sabuy Sabuy (one on College Ave and one on San Pablo Ave) where the owner offered to move the furniture so my children could run around better. I was aghast... but I got over it...
--Picante where there are many families (and therefore it's loud) and the service is quick. Good luck. Hang in there! Susan


Dear Hungry Mom, I can certainly relate to feeling embarrassed and annoyed when my child will not cooperate with my agenda. Good for you for thinking ahead about what kind of restaurant might increase the odds of your son's cooperation.

But here's the thing: your child is doing exactly what his brain is neurologically programmed to do. From ages 2 - 6, a child's brain is biologically programmed to explore, experiment, and be impulsive. (''Positive Discipline for Preschoolers,'' Jane Nelsen.) So 10 minutes at a restaurant for a 2.5 year old is pretty good! Even much older kids, depending on their individual temperaments and cognitive abilities, may struggle with sitting at a meal (anywhere) for long periods of time. ''Kids do well when they can.'' This is my favorite mantra from Ross Greene, author of ''The Explosive Child'' and ''Lost at School.'' Kids do well when their cognitive skills and abilities match the demands of the situation. When the expectations of the situation outstrip their cognitive abilities, that can show up as ''misbehavior'' - but itC",b"s really not. In this case, it's your child doing the best he can, based on the skills and abilities his little brain has acquired after a short 2.5 years on the earth. That's not to say you shouldn't have high expectations for your tot. You should. But they should be grounded in empathy and understanding for where he's at developmentally. When we expect our kids to do more than they're capable of doing, it's a recipe for frustration on all sides. You feel annoyed or embarrassed and your child feels inadequate. Lose-Lose.

For more information on developmentally appropriate behavior for little ones, check out ''Positive Discipline for Preschoolers'' or the website PositiveDiscipline.com. Marcilie


We have twin 2-year-old toddlers, and they do sit still for the duration of a meal at a restaurant (the white tablecloth kind, not McD's). We've only had to walk out of 2 restaurants ever, and we know the reason both times: the first was because we tried to go out to eat too soon after a long road trip and the second because I didn't realize our daughter was tantrumy because she needed to go to the potty. Unfortunately, that's how she tells us so I learned from her that time that now when she gets that way, I first take her to the potty.

They are not compliant, quiet children. Ok our son is more that way, and our daughter not at all - she's a bit more bossy and temperamental. But here's what I suggest (and what we do):

* Time the restaurant trip to avoid tantrum triggers. This is key.
* Start early and often. We first took our kids out when they were around 3 months old.
* Model behavior at home and set clear expectations of this is how meals should go - both at home and restaurants they are consistent.
* We do not take food away if they drop any. We simply teach them over and over that food does not go on the floor.
* At home, they bus their own table. We also use a tablecloth on their little table/chair (no high chairs or boosters at home) to have a clear, visual start/end to the meals.
* We do not give them electronics. We talk to them and entertain. We play peekaboo with the napkin, talk about things on the table or in the restaurant, do potty trips, etc. - whatever we have to do to make the time pass away. Yes, it's work on your part but it's better than dealing with screaming kids. We also do no timeouts as we prefer education over punishment.
* We do not allow our kids to have straws or styrofoam cups. They eat those cups and the straws become a big fuss. We know those set our kids up for failure so we request real glass cups for them because we know they will handle those MUCH better. So set your kids up for success too. We also move silverware and everything out of reach. When they were very small, we allowed them to bring a small toy with them that wouldn't be loud if they banged it on the table.

I think staying at home just robs your children of this experience and this need to be constantly educated about how to behave in public. People don't expect toddlers to be perfect at the table. But I personally believe in setting a high standard and giving kids the benefit of the doubt while also constantly educating and yes, it's more work but it will pay off in the end. Our kids are now 2 and they will sit through an entire restaurant meal. They know they are not allowed to get up and run all over the restaurant and make everyone else annoyed. Happily eating with twin toddlers


Eating out with a toddler

Oct 2008

My wife and I have a spirited 16 month old son. Our last few restauarant outings have been awful, to say the least, and I no longer want to go out to eat with my son. My wife, on the other hand, thinks its a great idea and when the discussion comes up ''what to eat?'' her response is always to go somewhere that is not child friendly.

I do and continue to do all the food shopping and cooking and i'm a pretty good cook who incorporates my wife and sons food preferences into every meal, not to mention using mostly farmers market produce and food of a much greater quality than any baby- friendly restauarnt will provide.

So, soon family is coming to town and my wife has stated how we will be going out a lot; and her family likes to go to nice restaurants. I am dreading this already.

Beyond the obvious challenges of eating out with a toddler, I just don't think my wife is sensitive to fellow diners and the staff working at these restaurants. My son screams (happily) at the top of his lungs when we eat out and leaves a field of food under his chair which the staff has to clean up. I never feel like I can enjoy my food or conversation because I am trying to head off some problem or keep our little guy engaged so he doesn't scream or cry. The other big part is that I care about the staff and fellow diners and feel bad that our son is impacting their lives.

Lately eating at home has become very unpleasant as I am constantly overriding my wife's desire to eat out and I feel like I have to put on a 3 star meal every night and take on more cleaning chores to keep everyone OK with staying home.

I dont feel that we have the extra money to be eating out and I feel that my son eats more food when at home without all the distractions and we can be more flexible with each meal.

I know soon I will face a tough decision; go with my wife's family and my son out to some nice restaurants or opt out and stay at home. I have offered to cook every night for her family but my wife insists that this is too much work for me although I really love cooking.

Any suggestions? Chef Dad


My heart goes out to you - I have to say your wife sounds a bit unreasonable as well as clueless. Maybe she can entertain family out while you stay home with your son? It would give you both what you need and it's only a few hours. she should count her blessings
You are absolutely RIGHT ON!!!! I think your wife is being selfish (sorry)and a bit clueless. Yes, other diners DO NOT enjoy having screaming babes around, even those of us who are parents. If your wife likes to eat out that much, suggest that she go out alone, or with friends. Same when her family arrives...You may become resentful that everyone but you and your toddler are going out, but if it's no fun for you, staying in will be less anxiety provoking. Or, let them take the babe and you stay home.

Also, when you go out....take turns going outside with your toddler. It's really not a very fun way to go out to eat, but it keeps the toddler busy and the noise level down.

I wonder if your wife thinks that if she takes the toddler to restaurants often enough he will become better socialized. I think he's not old enough to learn proper restaurant behavior....and truthfully, having 2 VERY DIFFERENT boys, some kids just aren't restaurant material till way later. Good luck. I hope you stick to your guns for ALL of our sakes. fellow parent


Have you told her your feelings about eating out with a ''spirited'' child? Is your child ''spirited,'' because he/she isn't given a clear limit? I'm glad that someone in your family is concerned about other people in the restaurant, and I don't think you should feel bad that your child is impacting your in-law's lives. I mean, you can't expect to do the same things and be the same way before child and after child. Life does change when you have children, period.

If your wife insists on going out to nice restaurants, you should hire a babysitter and leave your child at home. There are appropriate places to take your children, and place where toddlers should be kept out.

Your wife ought to consider herself lucky that you're cooking wonderful meals at home. Tell her to grow up! Annoyed with insensitive parents


Boy, I remember those days of trying to eat out before either of my kids were old enough to do so. It was miserable for everyone and we finally just gave up until the kids got older and we could enjoy the meal. And we would never have brought them to a 4 star restaurant during the toddler years- painful for other diners, wait staff and we'd wind up having a $100 meal wrapped in doggy bags just to get out of there.

I'm not sure why your wife doesn't see this unless you shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for your youngster when you go out while she enjoys the nice dinner. The whole dining experience with family visiting sounds stressful for you so I would present these choices:

- you will cook nice dinners at home for most nights and agree to go to family friendly restaurants (there are nice ones that don't serve just chicken nuggets) one or two nights of the visit.

- if wife insists on fine dining, let her take your toddler on her own. Maybe if she has to be the one managing your child she'll see things a more from your perspective. Perhaps try this a few times before your family comes into town. Unless she's completely oblivious to the restaurant experience for your toddler and others, she should get why this isn't fun for you.

And how lucky for your wife that you like to cook good meals for the entire family. My 2 Cents


We have a high-spirited toddler as well. My family also loves to go out when they visit. We will often go out for lunch at family friendly places (tends to be quicker than dinner, and less crowded, so our toddler does OK). Then, we cook at home most nights, and get a babysitter once so we can go out to a nice dinner, act like adults, and talk with each other. Much more civilized than constantly trying to distract the little one.

As parents, we put the needs of our children before our own needs. Sounds like your son needs the focus you can only truly give him when he is at home. He's not ready to go to nice restaurants with you, and that's OK. Someday he will be. Until then, don't go. If I want to hear a toddler shrieking with joy, I can do that at home.

It sounds like your wife enjoys going out to dinner. So do we, and we frequently go out on dates after our son is asleep. (We swap babysitting with other families to make it more economical.) Maybe you can focus on how much you enjoy going out to dinner with your wife, and suggest that you try to do it without your son.

Honestly, from your description, it sounds like your wife is being selfish and unreasonable. You shouldn't have to take on additional chores to compensate for cooking a healthy meal at home for your family. Chef Mom


It sounds like a couple of issues are going here...

1) When your wife's family comes to town, why don't you just hire a babysitter for a few evenings, so that you can all go out an enjoy it. Cook the rest of the evenings. I know that when my family comes to town we prefer to sit around the dinner table, enjoy wine and laugh at home just as much (actually, probably more than) as going to a restaurant. A few 'child-free' evenings is also welcomed.

2) Hire a babysitter so that you can do something with your wife just once a week (or every other week). I know that I sometimes push to go out for dinner with my husband, but it isn't because I want to go out for dinner...I want to be some place without the kids (mine are 3 & 5). Often we will just go to a nice brepub have a pint or two and eat a nice, but not outrageous meal. Your wife's differing view on the dinner hour may just be a need for some child free time...

3) The sub-3 age at restaurants can be tough. I know that I hated spending the money to go out for a nice dinner and have to spend the whole time bending over backwards to keep the children engaged. I generally aimed for the 5 o'clock hour when I would take my very young children to restaurants. That way I wasn't usually disturbing other people (except for other families) if my child decided to let loose with a shriek. The problem will soon shift from behavior management to real enjoyment at the table. I take my own two daughters and their two friends (two 3 1/2 year olds and two 5 1/2 year olds) out to dinner every Tuesday night after ice skating lessons -- just a treat. Granted, the five of us are not fine dining, but I am usually one on four for 45-minutes inside a restaurant (sometimes my husband is in town and joins us). We have a great time...we try to whisper our entire conversation so that people will think we are spies...which generally means that our voices are normal...we play letter games and math games and talk about our days. -anon


Take out, dude! I love take out. The kids can get down and play when they're done. I'm not consumed with keeping them happy and contained. The food's right there. Decent restaurants will let you do take out, too. Our favorite (it's a big treat) is Dona Tomas, which is highly rated. We also love Pho 84. That's just our rut in Oakland. Berkeley, of course, is overrun with choices.

If you can convince your wife that she gets restaurant food, no cooking for you, and you get none of the tension, maybe it will be compromise. It's also cheaper -- since drinks aren't included, and are cheaper at home (we always open some wine, which we wouldn't pay for at a restaurant). We don't, but you could even use paper plates to cut down on clean-up.

We only started enjoying eating out with our son when he turned 6 -- and he's a really well-behaved child. That only works when the toddler is not with us, of course.

If you do go out, our policy was a *really* good tip and going to the same restaurants so the staff knew we were trying hard and tipping well. And, all the advice that you always get (toys in rotation, food for them to eat immediately, take them outside if there's a disruption, take them for a walk after ordering, etc). But, still, I'm with you -- it's too much work and pressure to enjoy it. anne


Chef Dad! You sound so nice - and considerate. I think you're absolutely right, your toddler is not up to it yet and you don't need the stress. Maybe your wife needs a night out to dinner with the toddler, just the two of them. Sounds like when you're there, she lets you manage the situation.

In terms of the parents' visit...would they be as permissive with his behavior at a restaurant? I know my parents would have ZERO tolerance for a misbehaving little person in a restaurant. They're definitely of a different generation with different expectations about how kids should behave.

I think you're absolutely right to think about the other restaurant patrons. If it's CA Pizza Kitchen and everyone's in the same boat, it's fine. But if a couple is out for a special meal to celebrate their anniversary and the kid at the next table screeches and bangs his spoons together, let's just say it's not fair...but you get that. Perhaps generate a list of age-appropriate restaurants for you all to go to. Then maybe send your wife off with your parents for a special dinner out one night. Sounds like eating at home is a fantastic option though! K


Take out food! Paper plates! My husband and I were a bit like your wife -- a little oblivious to the unpleasantness our toddler caused -- drove my mom nuts. We did have a supply of quiet restaurant toys. We ''toddler tipped'' about $4-6 extra bucks and explained it's for the mess on the floor. Kensington Pub had a children's play area if you don't like fast food with play structures. Some coffee houses have a play area and I'm on a crusade to get all restaurants to have similar play areas - it's just a space on the floor. At some resteraunts and banquets there can be a dead-end corner where a kid can sit quietly and play with blocks. My child slept in a stroller until age 5, and we had some impromtu dates that way. Picnics in parks are really lovely - pick a table by the play structure. Babysitting exchanges work well if you really like dining childless. It was all over so fast
We used to have the same in our house, although, at this point it is much less of a problem.

Three issues: a) eating out as a lifestyle/convenience, and cost matter; b) eating out with a jubilant little guy; and c) participation.

For the first one, you ought to make a serious effort to convey that while everyone loves the dinner-out experience, it is very expensive on a regular basis, and you ought to set a limit -- we coalesced to about once a week (mostly nearby thai takeouts, etc.) We don't do all-out dinners for purely financial reasons, except for a special occasion.

Second, most patrons find boisterous kids distracting/annoying, but they generally are somewhat sympathetic. So do not forego restos outright. We don't need to sanitize society from the fact that kids exist, and they are not socially gracious diners from day one. Our kids are a little too young and loud for the restaurant experience, so we do not subject waitstaff or patrons to this, except for a local family friendly casual place. You are not alone to think this way. If your wife wants to eat out once in a while so that she doesn't have to clean the mess, heck, we all need a break once in a while. Smile politely to everyone else glaring at you, and leave a bigger tip.

Lastly, (and this is a sensitive topic), it is not clear how you share into the responsibilities and worries together. Your post suggests that you do all the food shopping, the cooking, and cleaning after your son? And it sounds like you alone carry the worry about budgeting, spending etc. I am familiar with this experience intimately, but I became determined to overturn this as the status quo. It was hard in the beginning, but I insisted on getting my wife to think about the expenses, and to start meeting me half way about some of the mundane things that needed to be done by someone, magically (and it was always me).

My two cents: you have your head on your shoulders, so don't give up on this. Talk to your wife so that she understands that you cannot simply dine your way out of raising the little guy and all the mess he makes. And tell her that she can better express her sympathy to your hard work cleaning after him by actually helping out! anon


I'm totally with you. I didn't enjoy eating out with my toddlers either. I don't think that toddlers enjoy it either -- they're either stuck in a high chair or being chased around by grumpy parents. My suggestion is that you get a babysitter at least once so you can enjoy a nice dinner out with your inlaws. It also sounds like you are working hard to cook meals and that you are feeling unappreciated. Maybe it's time for a serious chat about the work you are doing, and about your feelings being taken into consideration. anonymous please
I expect you'll get several counter-marriage proposals based on what you say about your cooking/shopping/feeding prowress. Wow! My husband and I have similar standards when it comes to toddler disruption in public places, but with friends of mine I have felt the stress of having different standards, as it seems your wife and you do. It's almost impossible to relax when you feel your child/a child in your group is annoying fellow diners. I think a compromise is in order: let your wife go to some fancy meals along with her family, cook some meals at home, and maybe go to one or two kid-friendly but good restaurants. Now, will you marry me? I promise to eat your gourmet meals at home every night! Surviving on sandwiches
Why don't you just get a sitter once a week so that you and your wife can go out for a nice dinner together? When you go out with family to a nice restaurant, leave your child at home with a sitter. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, and you'd probably have a better time without your son anyway. Haven't taken my kid out to dinner in years
I like to eat out too, but it's hard to eat with small kids. First, I think you can compromise by finding family friendly places to go. Eat earlier rather than later. Don't let your kid be too hungry. Bring crayons and other things to entertain. Be clear about restaurant rules and make sure you and your wife are in agreement. Be prepared to carry out consequences if the behavior you want isn't there. We play restaurant at home and are teachign our kids what they should do. If we eat somewhere and they act up (too loud, wanting to run around, throwing food) one parent takes the kid out and to the car and we sit there in quiet to let htem know it is not a reward to leave and that mommy or daddy had to miss out on dinner because they were not behaving. It is a process and doens't alway work. I believe it's important to teach kids to learn how to behave at a restaurant and to show them that it's fun. I do not think you should make it hard on them, though. There are many family friendly places in the bay area with good food. I also think it's important to teach proper restaurant behavior, because frankly, many adults don't know how to behave.

So, when you cook at home, start giving your toddler some duties. They can help set the table. Maybe make a play menu to teach them about ordering and all.

We have a 4.5 and a 2.5 year old. Before we go in we say, ''we want everyone to use restaurant behavoir'' and they know if they act up, we leave and the fun is over. It ain't perfect, but the key is to not allow the bad behavior to happen. Save the fancy places for when you get a baby sitter. foodie mom


I was going to answer your letter as the mother of a very 'spirited child'' (now 18 and a great young man!.)who was hell on wheels in restaurants up to about 8 or 9. I have many stories and ways we handled things to share with you. But thinking about your letter further, it seems to me the problem you are describing is less about your child and more about the communication between you and your wife.

Have you told her clearly, what you have written in your letter here, that you currently are very unhappy going to restaurants with your toddler at this time and why? You say that you are dreading talking to her about this but know it will be inevitable when her family gets here. I wonder why you dread the conversation? Is this subject particularly loaded or is any difference of opinion hard to discuss? I found out that is not hard to avoid conflict when you are a a childless couple but once kids come along this approach doesn't really work very well. A ''spirited child'' will especially need parent cooperation, compromise and conflict resolution in many areas through the years. The link that has been provided has opinions about kids in restaurants and should address the subject and hopefully your wife and you can read it and discusss it.

I hope you two will address this area and get some agreed upon solutions/compromises before the family descends on you. What you two come up with can be tried and reworked if it doesn't go well but the two of you have to agree that is an area difficulty first. Then problem solving is possible. It will be good for not only your dinner options but your relationship as well. Good luck anon


The longer your post went on, the more it seems like the issue is more complex than initially presented. It's not just about what kind of restaurant one should take a toddler to; it's also about your wife wanting to go out, and about your worries about money, and about the division of domestic labor. Do you and your wife have access to a babysitter (family, friend, or hired) so just the TWO of you can go out to nice restaurants once and a while? Perhaps when her family is in town they would LIKE to babysit (spend time with the kiddie) while you two get a night out on the town. For everyday outings, there are some casual restaurants that are more family-friendly than others (and I'm not talking Chucky Cheese or MacDonalds). Some of our favorites in the Berkeley/Oakland area are Pasta Pomodoro, Picante, Cactus, Miyozen sushi (sp?), Lanesplitter Pizza, and many Chinese and Thai places. Any place with outdoor space is a good bet. You can search Chowhound for more suggestions. Picante at dinnertime is so full of kids, the ruckus yours makes won't even be noticed. I am with you in feeling uncomfortable in bringing my toddler into an elegant, hushed place where people want to relax in peace and quiet. Hopefully you and your wife can talk this through and find some compromises. A few tips: always bring plenty of toys, books, crayons, etc to entertain your little one; be prepared to take him outside for a break as needed; find places where the service is pretty speedy; be extra-nice to the staff and leave a big ''toddler tip.''
Wow, that's tough. Any way you can compromise and have a set specific night a week that you always go out? At least this way you don't have to worry about the battle every night. You can spend the week knowing you just have to get through that one night; she can spend the week looking forward to it. When her family is in town is a different case though - I'm not sure how much you can do about that other than try to excite them about some of the great meals you are hoping to cook for them. But I think if your wife is really looking forward to going out to eat with them that you should try to accommodate her. Maybe on some of the nights out you could offer sweetly to stay home with the kid so that they can all stay out extra late.

As for leaving food all over a restaurant, here's a product I have found really useful: http://www.kiddopotamus.com/p_tiny.php It's a flexible plastic placemat type thing with suction cups you stick on the table, and it has a little shelf that catches at least some of the stuff that would normally fall off the table.

Toys we've had luck with in restaurants: small cars/trains, a bank and a handful of coins, and always the sugar packets and the sugar packet container. A combination of these items keeps our toddler happy and occupied for decent periods of time. Good luck!


Would it work to get a babysitter? Or let your wife know that from about age 1-3 years, toddlers are not developmentally ready to understand ''restaurant manners''? When our daughter was this age, we either got carry out or a babysitter. We did not start taking her to even kid-friendly restaurants until she was about 3, it was just too stressful and not a good time for us. At age 3, we started introducing restaurant manners and by the time she was 4 she could behave well at nicer restaurants. Behaving in restaurants is something kids need to be taught and need to practice and you can't start teaching and practicing until they are old enough to understand. -- good luck
When our son was this age, we rarely ate out to be considerate to ourselves, our son and other people in the restaurant. We pretty much only went to restaurants that could serve us our food quickly, like Vietnamese Pho (soup) or other quick places. We also ate a lot of takeout. I suggest that you eat most meals at home (take out or with you cooking) and hire a babysitter for one or two nights so you can have one or two leisurely adult meals out with the family. Good luck!
Have you thought about a portable DVD player? We use one sometimes when we go out. The volume is off (you can use ear plugs if you wish) and keeps our child from going crazy. It lets everyone enjoy their meal, including tables around you. likes a meal out sometimes
This might sound harsh, but your insticts are right on and it is really important to stand up to your wife about this issue. This is one of many that will come up and if you do not stand your ground now, you won't ever be able to do so. As a mom of teenagers, (yes they were once screaming toddlers) I am totally irritated when I go to restuarants (adult oriented restuarants,,,,not chuck e cheese)and have to hear toddlers who are acting like toddlers. There are certain children who should not be out in adult oriented restaurants until they are older. The majority of parents feel your pain but at the same time wish that you would be a responsible parent and keep your screamer at home or take your screamer to a kid oriented restaurant until they stop being screamers (which they will.....I promise!!) remember those days....
You and your wife should compromise. She has to let go of the notion that you guys can eat in nice adult restaurants all the time with your toddler. If you aren't enjoying yourself and your kid isn't enjoying himself, then she's the only one remotely enjoying the meal, and that's just not fair.

Maybe you can get your wife to agree to more kid-friendly places with your son if you get a sitter a couple times a month for a nice dinner out together without him.

Also, it sounds like you are a stay at home dad? Does your wife work full time? Why can't she pick up dinner from a restaurant once a week on her way home? Honestly, it sounds to me like she wants to live her pre-kid life without having to adjust her love of eating out. Giving up eating out is the most minor sacrifices we make for our kids. And it is a very short-lived one.

As for the pending visitors, maybe hire a sitter when your guests are in town for one or two nice meals out. Then you could order in a few meals when your guests are there. You don't say where you live, but any area that qualifies for the BPN list will have restaurants and gourmet catering options. Whole Foods catering is pretty good. You could order main courses and fill in at home with salads, or you could get the whole meal catered. We've done that for family gatherings at it has worked out great. Most restaurants will cater for you to. It doesn't have to be fancy catering, just a bunch of food ordered ahead of time and served at home.


I have twins so believe me I have sympathy for your plight. However, I also firmly believe that an adult restaurant (i.e., non-family friendly) is no place for kids. Is a babysitter out of the question? That's my first thought: get a babysitter for the better restaurants, and mix in a few family friendly ones so your son can join a few times. Seems like a compromise is in order here, especially so you (and your fellow diners) can enjoy your time with your inlaws. Fellow Diner
Any restaurant other than a Picante-type one doesn't seem right for a toddler. Diners in ''nice'' restaurants deserve (and are paying for) a relatively quiet eating experience. Your child isn't old enough to be able to behave. Sounds like the dining experience for you is stressful--waiting for high pitched screeches and nasty looks from neighboring diners. Who needs it? I think your wife is being unrealistic about taking your child to nice restaurants. I'm with you
Your spouse is the problem (and I apologize profusely for the bluntness).

Why are you the only one that does the cooking, shopping, cleaning? Is she the sole breadwinner in the house? If so, it's clear you are a reasonable guy and would be cutting her some slack for working long days and needing to have something served to her once in a while.

But from what you write, it's hard to see her as being any reasonable about this. I think the real problem is her need to be eating out at restaurants (and not just any restaurants, more like the really expensive ones) more as a lifestyle issue. It's hard to accept that she doesn't think about the money issue, and most of all the problem created by your son (who by the way, is way too small to be restaurant ready).

You are dead on serious, and you should be applauded for turning to this forum to figure out where you stand. It's important to know what is average/normal/reasonable for other couples, and you will get ample validation of where your head is. You have a real issue in front of you, but it's not insurmountable.

My wife and I had similar issues of lifestyle needs and a wildly uneven distribution of worries about affordability/money/budgeting, and I decided early on that I didn't want to go to bed every night with the worries only on me. I made a strong and sustained stand against it, and it is now almost a non-issue.

Be strong and committed to this. You may not get her to think with you all the time, but you need to drive it hard that what she does is work against you and she needs to come down and be present in the reality of the family. I am sure there are two sides to every coin, but if you had to write this post, you are at your witt's end, and have at least a 50% chance of being correct in your assessment of the situation (personally, I'd put it around 95%).

Know that things can be turned around. Marriage is not about having your lifestyle choices met. It is about worries, compromises, mundane every-day reality, and the unsatisfying, and ungrateful responsibility of getting down on the floor and cleaning up after your son has finished eating the carefully, skilfully, and lovingly prepared meals your husband has cooked.

It's time for her to have a wake-up call, an intervention, whatever is needed. Norm


In-laws complaining about kids' messy eating

Nov 2007

My in-laws, whom I adore, recently confronted my husband about our kids' table manners, especially in restaurants. We have 2 young children (1 and 3) who have always been good eaters but not very neat eaters. We are very used to picking up after them wherever we go, and always leave big tips if we are at restaurants. Recently we ate at a fairly nice restaurant with my in-laws and following that meal, they confronted my husband. Our kids sometimes throw food, eat with their hands, eat off the table, etc. We are not really that particular when it comes to discipling them around food, as we have always believed food exploration was a positive thing. We are getting more disciplined with our oldest child lately, but otherwise have always been pretty laid back about it. Anyhow, this is creating some tension in a previously amicable relationship with them. Now I feel like when we go to their house or out to eat with them, we have to be really careful. I haven't said anything to them directly and my husband told them that they are just kids and that is what kids do. Any advice? This is the first time they have actually criticized our parenting at all since having kids a few years ago, so maybe we should just count our blessings! Mom of 2 messy eaters


Please do your in-laws and your fellow diners a favor and don't take your kids to a 'fairly nice restaurant' until they get to the age where they aren't throwing food and making big messes. There are plenty of local restaurants where messy kids aren't that noticable. But when I pay a babysitter to go out with my husband to a fairly nice restaurant, I really don't want to watch other peoples' kids throw food.
Just sayin'
Well, your kids are kind of young (especially the 1 year old) but you should definitely start with the 3-year old teaching her some manners. We actually almost never ate out with our kids until they were older and knew how to behave themselves properly. But throwing food is NEVER tolerated, even at home. You need to start them understanding the rules as it's going to take years for them to actually employ good table manners without you prompting (I still have to remind our kids who are 6 and 8 now). They should be eating food from their own plates only (not off the table - yucky thought if you're at a restaurant that just quickly wipes the table down with a dirty dish rag) and should never throw anything or they get removed from the table. Eating with their hands is not such a big deal for the 1 year old, and even for the 3 year old as dexterity is still an issue for him/her I would imagine. But you want to encourage the use of utensils as much as possible. Maybe if your inlaws saw you putting in an effort to teach them, they'd be more easy going about how they actually behave. Good Luck! Constantly reminding
Hokay. I am usually the straight-laced Easterner complaining about laissez-faire California parents letting their kids run wild. But come on: 12 months? and a 3 year old? Your in-laws are cuckoo in the head, and you should just laugh this off. Sure, maybe in the next year or so you can start helping the older kid get a little better with the fork, but they sound perfectly age-appropriate and normal to moi.
I don't know, but if you get along so well w/ your in-laws, maybe you should try to work on their request--and see it as a request. They're probably a little uncomfortable w/ your kids' table manners (quite frankly, I would be too, but I'm on the fussier side about that, and I really feel uncomfortable about my kids impacting other diners, and I'm embarrassed for people who let their kids make a mess in a restaurant.). I don't think they're asking you to ''be really careful.'' Just try to be more considerate of others. Is it really so hard to work w/ your kids a little more? If you can't figure out how, you can always ask their opinion--you don't even have to let on that you know they made the criticism. You could just say, out of the blue, ''I've really been trying to work with Junior not to throw food, but I seem to be struggling with it. And if this is all they've said in 2 years, yeah, count your blessings. (Maybe think about it this way: you wouldn't let your kid throw your wallet in a restaurant, so there are limits. And other patrons-myself among them-would be really disgusted if your kids' food landed on them, or had to step in it, or even just look at it.) It's pretty distracting when you go out to dinner to have to deal w/ some other kid's mess, especially for people who are putting the effort into minimizing the mess with their own kids. And keep in mind that if you can teach them good manners as a matter of course, you won't have to deal w/ worse implications of it later--and both you and the kids will learn that you're in charge.
Kids will be kids and you can't expect very young children to have great table manners in a restaurant. So the best way not to embarrasse anbody is take them to restaurants that are used to accomodate children. Other dinners won't be upset and you and your in-laws will have a relaxed and fun experience. anon
Simple solution: don't go out to eat with your children. If I am eating at a fairly nice restaurant, the last thing I like to watch is young children throwing food and ''exploring food''. When my children were that age, we rarely went out to restaurants (at least ones that weren't family friendly) and still expected them to behave. anon
Throwing food?! Eating with their hands?! Eating off the table?! At a restaurant?! No wonder your in-laws said something! I wouldn't even be able to eat if someone, even a child, was eating near me with that kind of wild abandon. IMHO, it's never too early to at least try and teach some kind of basic ''let's be polite when we eat out'' behavior. If you want to do something else at home so be it, but it sounds like your children's own grandparents want to know they can eat with your family and feel like a modicum of considerate polite behavior is expected from everyone at the table. Not too much for them to ask really, and good training also for when your kids start to spend time on their own with other families at meals via play dates etc. It's hard to be hospitable to children who you know are going to spread food all over the table. Miss Manners' disciple
1 and 3? Messiness is to be expected! That's the age when kids are in the ''let's see what happens when I do this'' stage. Your in-laws have forgotten what it was like to be around kids that age. It sounds to me like you are being very conscientious and doing everything you should be doing (tipping extra, trying to correct your kids when they throw food, etc.). I have 2 suggestions: 1. Either let your hubby go out to fancy restaurants with his parents and let you and the kids stay home, or just get takeout, or go to a kid-friendly place like Pasta Pomodoro. 2. Leave the kids with the in-laws for a day, through a couple of meal-times, and let them see if they can make meal-time any less messy. Chances are, they'll get a good reminder of what it's like to have toddlers at a dinner table. Best of luck, Heidi
They are just one and three? This is what kids do and so the way I see it, you have two choices: Go to family friendly places and/or tell them to back off (there are polite ways to say it...or not) or hire a babysitter. Since I know a little about in-law criticism myself, my advice is to get a babysitter. It will relieve your stress about your totally normal kids, and remove their expectations of what your kids should behave like at a restaurant. big tipper too
My mom always tells me she didn't teach me to cook because I wasn't interested. I wonder... what if I hadn't been interested in potty training, or going to school? There are lots of things that ''kids just do'', but which aren't okay.

Sorry to not really be on your side here.. but I think your in-laws have a point. It's our job as parents/caregivers to guide/teach them what they need to know. BUT... you get to do it in your own way. I think encouraging exploration is great, but at age 1, (in my opinion) it's appropriate to remind children *every time* something is thrown, that we keep all our food on our plate/highchair tray. If we don't like it, we don't have to eat it, but it must stay on the plate. At age one, it's understood that you're still working on this, but by three, it's completely unacceptable to be throwing food. By age three, you should have enough skill with utensils to use them most of the time. I give 1yos utensils and encourage them to use them, but when they lose interest, I realize that's all they could handle for that meal. Eating off the table... well, if you're going to allow that at home, you're going to embarrass whoever you eat out with in public, especially at nicer places.

I'm not in an older, conservative generation btw. I'm 33, and a very-experienced nanny. I lovingly and diligently work to instill strong, healthy habits that help the children and parents over the long haul. They certainly don't have to be perfect - of course there is some mess - but you should be working with them on this, to help them gradually improve their skills. Food for thought


If this is the first time your in-laws have said something, there is probably a good reason to speak up. After all, they reared your spouse and did a good job. One needn't necessarily ''discipline'' a child who throws food; just take the food away. I'm sure your in-laws would be more than willing to help you teach the kids age-appropriate table manners. Kids tend to spill a lot and drop crumbs and get their hands and face dirty, but there's no excuse for throwing food. Finicky eater
Based on the age of your children, I think ''discipling'' them about eating is silly, a waste of time, and, if attempted, only likely to add stress! ''Discipling'' a toddler about eating seems inappropriate from a child development point of view-- particularly the 1 year old. Sounds like the grandparents are a little out of touch about the developmental milestones children follow. Perhaps you can ''cite'' your pediatrician or a parenting book that explains what is likely to happen at meals and indicates the age at which napkins, forks and spoons are even able to be manipulated by a young child. And finally, I guess you could invest in one of those large plastic mats sold to go under the highchair to catch spills. Perhaps it is really their own space they are trying to keep clean. For now, let the food keep flying, being mashed, smashed, dangled, etc. What better way to conquer those fine motor skills while also getting a few calories into the old belly! opted for mops and brooms

Restaurant Etiquette for Baby Messes

July 2005

My husband and I occasionally like to go out to restaurants with our 9-month-old son. He is just learning to eat finger foods and even though we give him just a little bit at a time, he often drops a lot of food on the floor. What is the etiquette about cleaning this mess up? I always wipe the table down with a napkin after he is done and put any of the bits and pieces he didn't eat on one of the empty plates, but what should I do about the stuff that falls on the floor? I'd feel ridiculous getting down on my hands and knees to pick up Cheerios, but I also feel guilty about leaving a huge mess behind. -Wendy


I really hope no one says ''Don't clean at all - that's what the staff are paid to do!'' Because most staff at ''family friendly'' restaurants are paid minimum wage with tips on top. And it's just a ''decent thing'' to make an effort to leave the place not looking like a pigpen. Maybe pick up the big chunks of food, scoot stuff together with your foot, but certainly acknowledge the staff - ''Awfully sorry about the mess - you must get tired of this sometimes!'' - and leave a nice tip. As your child gets older, they'll understand that it's just good etiquette and good karma to leave everything ''nice'' - it's all part of the big lesson. Always With Baby Wipes

Kids running loose in the restaurant

October 2003

My husband and i were eating at Fat Apple's (EC) last week when several *very* small children began to play under our table. Their parents were across the room and seemed oblivious to the situation. The waiter told the kids to go back to their parents as the kids were not only quite loud, but were doing very unsafe things like crawling under chairs. Eventually, the waiter asked the parents to come get the kids. (By then, the little ones were screaming.) The mom came over and as she was taking the littlest baby (about 2yo) from under the table, said to me very sweetly ''you don't mind the noise, do you.' My response was ''Actually, yes I do.'' So...of course, she got very mad at me and made quite a stink about how i didn't like kids.

Here's the question: How should i have handled the situation? Should i have stopped the kids earlier? Should i have not said anything to the parent who seemed to feel that I was an elderly child hater?

Advice, please. I wouldn't have said anything at all if she hadn't asked...or if she had said that she was sorry for the disruption, I would have just thanked her for taking the child away. i just *thought8 that she was trying to make me a co- dependent in her kids behavioral issues. Honestly likes kids!


No, I do not think that you did anything wrong in telling the mother that, yes, the noise (and behavior) was disruptive. She asked, after all (even if was a rhetorical question). I suppose that you could have asked the parent to remove the children earlier, but really, it was the mother's responsibility to make sure that her children were NOT disruptive in the restaurant! A restaurant is not a childcare center and it is selfish and inconsiderate of parents to assume that children can behave however they like, at the expense of the enjoyment of other patrons. I also have a toddler and I expect her to sit and either eat or stay entertained with the activities that I bring (crayons, stickers, books). If she cannot cooperate, we leave.
toddler's mom
It sounds to me like you handled the situation well and the mom was trying to get your buy-in on her bad parenting. Anyone who would let a two-year old wander to the other side of a restaurant, even as small as Fat Apple's, is clueless. Don't feel guilty! Lori
First of all, I believe that you like kids! Thank you for posting your concerns. I am a mom of a 2-year-old who can get quite unruly in a restaurant and we handle it in a completely different way than the parents you described. (We also frequent FatApples at both locations so I felt some community sense to reply.) When our 2-year-old becomes whiny or loud in her high chair or booster, we take her outside. When she wants to get out of her chair, we have a rule that says she has to stay no more than one step away for our table, and if she doesn't want to do that, she's either in the chair or, again, outside with one of us.

In the situation you described, I would also be put off and irritated. In my opinion, other people in a restaurant should not have to be interrupted, poked, scuttled-under, or drowned out by kids of any age. It's a drag sometimes to have to get up and leave before you're even half-way through your meal, but that is what we do if our child is getting out of hand. I find that I'm annoyed at parents who don't feel this same sense of responsibility/boundries because it presents a situation where I have to try and convince our own 2-year-old that just because those other kids are running around, it doesn't mean that she can. Before I had kids, I was more sensitive to unruly kids than I am now. But not dramatically so. You were right to respond honestly to the parent's weird comment (''you don't mind the noise, do you?''). Tolerance is a good thing, but the situation you describe pushed the limits of common courtesy. striving to be respectful and to teach my child good manners


I'll be interested to see the responses to this one. I think you were spot on -- and extremely patient. Parent asked; you answered. I think Miss Manners would hope you did so with a smile on your face (as an understanding parent of a former toddler?), but icy indifference would not be a hanging offense under the circumstances. Anonymous diner
I think you had handled a situation quite fine. It was just that the mother was not responsible enough in my opinion. She should not have asked you to accept her idea about what small children can do at the restaurants.

If I were in your situation, I may have even told children something like '' Excuse me. It is not safe to play under the table in an restaurant. This is not a play ground. Come out, and let's go back to your mom.'' I may even take them by myself to the mother, and say to her that ''I do not think it is safe for those little ones to play under the table. I also would like to enjoy my food, so could you keep an eye on your kids please?''. Give back kids, and walk away.

I do understand that it is certainly difficult for small children to be sitting all the time while eating. I know it since I have two boys, 4 and a half years old and 11 months old. But still, that is not a place to play. To me, restaurants are places to eat and enjoy food. Not a play ground. Your responce seems very right to me, so you do not need to feel bad about yourself. Mom of two active boys


I do not think that you are a baby hater. I have two small children of my own and if they were climbing under your table I would be quite embarassed. My kids are not angels and they have a hard time sitting still in any restaurant, so we don't go too many places. I feel strongly that we have to impress upon them that everyone needs to enjoy their meal which sometimes means that we make a hasty exit. Joan
I don't think you should have done anything differently. For one, it's not your responsibility to parent somebody else's kids. When parents let their kids roam free in a restaurant it's absolutely their responsibility to make sure that 1. their kids are safe and 2. their kids aren't bothering anybody. It makes me angry to no end when I see kids roaming loose in public places and their parents not even *watching* them. My almost 2 year old loves to run directly into the kitchen whenever we let him loose in a restaurant, and I would absolutely never even CONSIDER not following closely behind. And as for the mother getting mad at you, if somebody is going to ask you whether or not you're okay with something, they have to be prepared for the possibility that you're going to give them an answer they're not entirely happy with. Jill
It can be hard taking small kids to restaurants, and since Fat Apples is such a kid friendly place, lots of parents of young kids do sort of let their guard down. Still, the situation you describe seems really over the top. The thing that seems most difficult in this situation is that the kids were actually under your table and the parents didn't mind. That would bother me, too. The mother's question to you sounds like a request to let her off the hook. You didn't. No wonder she was angry. But I don't think you were out of line at all. anon
Hi there! First, let me say that I have a very energetic 22 month-old boy whom I take to restautants and will not allow to run around and inconvenience anyone else. If he can't sit still after repeated attempts to make him behave, we leave (has almost never happened).

Now, let me say, good for you for responding the way you did. My sister-in-law and her husband (wonderful people whom I love dearly) were a little that way (though not as extreme as letting their kids play under someone's table!). They somehow seemed to believe that their kids were cute and everyone else would not mind entertaining and babysitting them in restaurants. It is very impolite behavior and a very poor example for the kids.

This woman assumed that by saying what she did, the entire episode was somehow made acceptable and normal. There is also this unrealistic thinking that my sis-in-law seemed to have (and maybe this woman too) that if people minded they would say something. However, we all know that this is not usually the case as people are generally non-confrontational in these situations and should not have to be put in a situation that makes them uncomfortable.

The only way people learn is when someone actually says something - like you did. I think what you did was brave as most people would have responded that they didn't mind even if they did. I don't know if this situation could have been handled any differently - maybe calling the waiter right from the start? Restaurants For All!


I have a feeling you're going to get a flood of responses, all of which will support you (it'll be interesting to read any responses that don't), but I can't help jumping in and responding. I've always loved being around kids, and am now a mom of a 16 month old. However, parents who allow their children to run around restaurants being disruptive is a big pet peeve of mine -- and I will never allow my son to behave that way! You can like children and still think their parents should be teaching them safe and appropriate behavior -- and as you said, young children wandering around a restaurant are a safety hazard. Although I've never seen a waiter actually collide with a young child, I've seen some close calls. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that people carrying trays of hot food and people who are less than 3 feet tall are not a good combination! Even if they're not doing anything unsafe, it's not ok to allow your kids to disturb other diners. Part of the job of parents is to teach kids appropriate behavior, and crawling around under the tables in a restaurant is clearly not appropriate.

If anything, you were far more tolerant than I would have been. As soon as the children started playing under my table, I would have been looking for their parents and asking them to bring their kids back to their table. Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with a situation exactly like the one you described, but I think you behaved reasonably and the mother of those kids did not. Diane


Your answer was perfectly acceptable, though the mom's response was anything but acceptable. The simple fact that this woman had to be told by the waiter to corral her kids should have given her an indication that she needed to correct the situation as quickly and as quietly as possible. Don't feel as if you came off as a kid hating elder...this woman will, no doubt, come across many more people who, when asked, will tell her that her kids need a bit of discipine. You should not feel guilty for honestly answering the question. Bennett
I found your post amazing! Some parents let their small kids play under YOUR table on the other side of the restaurant, and then they got upset when you weren't thrilled? I don't think you need to feel apologetic about making it clear that you don't need someone else's toddlers under your table during breakfast. I have two small kids and sometimes they escape from our immediate control, but we make an effort to keep them fairly well corralled because, frankly, it is our view that other people don't come to restaurants to interact at length and on fairly intimate terms with our small children. And while I also think that people without young kids need to understand (or remember) that it can be difficult to control kids in public, and have a little sympathy with harried parents, it sounds like your expectations were reasonable. I think your response was fine, perfectly appropriate, and after all, she ASKED. You would also have been within your rights, in my view, to extract the kids from under the table and return them to the parents much earlier in the process. That mom had no call to get angry, but should simply have apologized to you for any inconvenience. And perhaps she shouldn't ask questions to which she doesn't really want an answer. Wendy
I absolutely support your honest response to the mother of the small children. As the mother of a 2 year old who regularly eats in restaurants, I am apalled by the behavior I see going unchecked. I hold the parents fully responsible for not doing their job and feel sorry for children who have so few guidelines about what constitutes appropriate public behavior. I feel that it is my responsibility to teach my child how to behave in a restaurant and if he is not capable of handling sitting quietly and NOT DISTURBING other diners, I need to remove him from the situation, not ask others to endure it. Restaurants, no matter how kid-friendly, are not playgrounds where running around and yelling is acceptable. I'm not saying that my child is always perfect in a restaurant, but it is my job to decide that he is disturbing others and ask for my meal ''to go.'' Trying to be Considerate Mom
Please, oh please, do not let this woman's insensitivity and inappropriate anger make you feel badly about yourself. You would not cough on her food or talk loudly on your cell phone or do anything else to ruin her meal so why should be be allowed to do the same thing to you? And then to get mad at you for not being thrilled about it is unbelievably nervvy. Personally, it sounds like you handled it very gently. I adore children but would not be so quiet if I was forced to have them under my table while eating. I believe you that you are not a child hater! Elizabeth
NO, you did not do anything wrong. I have two kids myself and love kids, but I would have done what you did. Whenever I am out with my kids, I am very sensitive to others who may like kids but would like to be left alone (my fantasy!). And those who may not like kids too. Also,kids playing in restaraunts under the table etc. is dangerous! If that woman wanted to eat out without having to deal with her kids, she should have called a babysitter! Hilary
I have a 2 1/2 year old and I would NEVER allow her to play under someone else's table when their eating at the restaurant. This person obviously expects that her very relaxed style of parenting should be observed (and participated) by all - She is WRONG. Yes, kids fuss or cry or spill their drink but besides the noise and mess issues (Fat Apples is not a quiet place anyway and the mess usually confined to their own table) your personal space should not have been taken over AND the parent should have retrieved their child immediately, without having to be asked to do so.

As for the comment: Maybe you could have been more diplomatic (the tone it was said cannot be heard in a posting), however, if she didn't want to know, she should not have asked. Anon


More power to you! I have 3 young sons and we eat out with them 1 - 2 times a week. And I would find the behavior you described completely unacceptable in my own or other's children. You were absolutely right to answer her probably rhetorical question honestly. Unfortunately my experience is that people who behave as she did don't really care what others think and certainly would not recognize any fault on her part. Still cares about manners
I wouldn't worry about it. This mom sounded like she just wanted you to say it wasn't a problem. Your only other choice would have been to say it wasn't a problem, or to say something like, ''normally it wouldn't bother me, but we were trying to get through a pretty difficult conversation..'' Which maybe you could say if it hadn't been bugging you through your meal. But it's not your problem if the parents can't control their kids, and if they ask the question and don't like what they hear. Personally, I would have asked the parent to come get the kid immediately, maybe asking the kid nicely if they could play under their parents' table. But if it troubles you to get the response that you got, next time maybe you should lie nicely! anon
I just wanted to chime in on your posting about restaurant behavior. It is never okay to let a child wander around a restaurant. For safety reasons alone, workers carry hot food, liquid in glass-which if spilled or broken on ANYONE would become a large problem for all concerned.

When my child was 2 ''restauranting'' became a challenge, if he was under my table, that would work for a time, but any wandering, required immediate removal outside to walk and wander. I was aghast to see that someone was offended because you were ''inconvenienced'' by her unsupervised children under you table. former restaurateur


I agree with everyone else who posted. You didn't do or say anything wrong. I have two small children and I NEVER let them run around in restaurants. I think it is dangerous, and cannot believe how many people let their kids do it. (Can you imagine if one of the servers had tripped over one of the kids while carrying a full tray, or a tray with hot food?!)

A simillar incident happened to me this summer at the pool while I was waiting for my son's lesson to end. There were three kids climbing on bleachers and jumping off to the concrete patio below. I was very nervous. It seemed as if the children were without adult supervision. I waited for the pool workers to tell the kids to knock it off, but that never happened. Eventually one of the kids climbed up the back of the bleachers and popped out between my legs. That was it! I calmly told the kid that I was uncomfortable with what was going on and that she should go play by her parent. She left... she, and her friends, continued to run around, but not near us. The other parents around me all thanked me for stepping in, but none of them had felt comfortable enough to do anything. Later I noticed a woman who had been sitting with her back to the kids get up and herd them out.

I know that many parents object to others commenting on or correcting their children's behavior. I can understand that different people have different standards of behavior and safety. I know that some people are insulted and feel reprimanded themselves when another grown up makes a comment about their kid's behavior, even if they agree. I don't advocate disciplining strange children, or even interfering, but we all have to share the world... restaurants, parks, etc. I would love it if everyone could understand that and be attentive to their kids so they could reign them in when appropriate. Until then, I guess we will have to become comfortable stepping in sometimes. a mom who wants restaurants to keep welcoming children


Last year a friend of ours was in Picante, which is also a very kid-friendly restaurant. She let her son run up and down, back and forth, and so on. Someone accidently spilled very hot tea on him, burning him on his face and neck (rather severely, in fact). It is not just rude to let your kids climb about in a restaurant, but it is also dangerous. Picnics are for running around, not restaurants. And BTW, no one finds your children as cute as you do. In fact, most of us find them more cute if they are sitting quietly in their seats.... Mother of well-behaved children

Toddler screaming in restaurants

October 2002

I am having a difficult time coping with my 19-month old screaming at the top of his lungs while in a restaurant. I can understand that he is vocalizing and cannot usually control his volume. However, instead of babbling, he screams. I don't usually mind his screaming and I try to give words to his feelings. But it seems everytime we are in a restaurant he screams bloody murder. In the quiet cafe where I like to have breakfast, other customers are leaving because my child is so loud and obnoxious. Telling him ''no screaming,'' covering his mouth with my hand, and blowing air in his face are no longer working. Am I doomed to eat at home for the next couple of years? Any suggestions besides eating in noisy places? I have checked the website regarding screaming toddlers and none of the advice there helped. Thanks. Leslie


My child is pretty mild in terms of this kind of behaviour, but we have always looked at it as undesirable social behavior/manners that we would want to discourage. Therefore, we handle it like throwing food, purposely spilling juice, etc. We don't think that ''vocalizing'' and other euphemisms are fair for the other people who have to put up with the noise from screaming. Basicly, be consistent (with whatever method you use) as you are with other undesirable behaviors. Anonymous
Having had both a child who behaved like a dream in restaurants at all ages and two who were loud and tried to run around whenever they could, I came to realize that my two roudy kids were trying to tell me that they were not ready to frequent a restaurant. Either it was too much to ask of them (they weren't ready to behave in a mannerly way) or they got hyped up from the noise and commotion that happens in even the most relaxed restuarants. Your child is probably not ready for restaurants and it is not fair to the other diners to subject them to his noisy behavior. It always seems to work best not to ask more of your child than he or she can manage. Try cutting your restaurant visits for now (take-out is a good option) and then begin again in a couple of months. It does improve, but it is up to you to make it easier for your child (not to mention other diners!). harried mom
Simple answer: don't go to restaurants. This is just a stage, and you will be able to return to restaurants again within the year, but there's no excuse for ruining other people's dining experience in the short term. Get your order to go and take it home or to the park. And when you decide to try restaurants again, be strict: the first scream gets a warning, the second one means you leave, whether or not either of you have eaten. 18 months isn't too early to learn to be considerate of others or to understand the concept of consequences. A mom whose child behaves in restaurants
My now 21-month-old went through a big screaming phase for three weeks at about 19 months. The bad news is that nothing really worked and we stopped going to restaurants for a while -- though these were our best attempts at dealing with it: 1) Telling him: ''Ouch, that really hurts mommy's ears.'' -- complete with exagerrated crying. 2) Explaining: ''Ugh, that really upsets the other people in the restaurant, see how sad they look!'' 3) We distracted him with books, cars, coloring, ice, etc... 4) We tried to be sure he was the right amount of hungry (not starving, but ready to eat), not tired, comfortable, etc... 5) Books and other parents recommended explaining that screaming is an ''outside voice'' and taking them outside to scream. This didn't work for us because we did not want to go to a restaurant only to hang-out outside.

The good news is that the screaming phase has passed. (Though restaurants remain off our destination list as the child does not sit still...) Bon Appetit and Good Luck! CKC


Sorry to say, but you probably will need to stay home a bit more often for some period of time. It just isn't fair to other patrons to expect them to put up with screaming while they are trying to enjoy their time out.

Personally, I find it much more relaxing to eat take-out while my 2 small children play happily at home than to deal with shushing & disciplining in most restaurants. We've even given in to my husband's iron-clad rule of never doing take-out sushi.

The good news is, it's not forever. It may be a shorter or longer phase (depending on your child) but there will be light at the end of the tunnel! We venture out occasionally with great success...but it wasn't always so. Jill


I remember how sad I was when my 15 month old began behaving in a loud and disruptive way in restaurants. I stopped going out with him, because I didn't feel it was fair to the other diners -- just one loud scream from him, and we'd leave. However, it didn't last long, and as soon as he got a few words under his belt we were back to our breakfasts & lunches out. This too will pass! (In the meantime, I hope you'll take pity on the other patrons....) anon
Hi, my toddler doesn't scream in restaurants, but wants to be more active than most restaurants can accomodate, so I think I understand where you're coming from. The issue isn't so much changing your toddler's behavior to fit the restaurant, but choosing restaurants that can handle your toddler's behavior. I'm not anti-discipline - I agree you should set boundaries for your child. But there is only so much you can expect from a 17 month old short of gagging and hog-tying them. I had to laugh at your description of your favorite restaurant as a ''quiet cafe.'' Quiet and toddlers don't mix! For the sake of the other patrons, and for your own mental health, that place should probably be off your list for now, at least when your toddler is with you. It sounds like it's not fun for either of you anyway. There are more kid-friendly places, but they would never be described as quite cafes! For toddlers, the noisier the better..... Perhaps you could visit your favorite quiet place on occasions when you have the luxury of a babysitter. And someday you can return with your then-preschooler, who will be old enough to understand what behavior is appropriate in quiet restaurants.
mom of wild toddler
Um, don't eat in quiet restaurants with your toddler. I know some people with very obedient, quiet, docile little children who keep going to restaurants throughout their toddler years, but that doesn't describe most kids. It certainly didn't describe ours. Our daughter ate at Chez Panisse and Rivoli and Olivetto during her first year, but from then on, we went to places like Kensington Circus or Barney's, and did a lot of take-out. If it's not screaming, it's running around, banging the silverware, throwing food, etc. There's a reason why you don't often see little kids in nice restaurants. Maybe there's some magic bullet I don't know about (or you could slip some valium into the sippy cup), but it might just be time to readjust your lifestyle a little.
Judith, once again
I don't think you are doomed to eat at home for the next two years, but you may be doomed to avoid quiet cafes/restaurants for the next few months or more. Toddlers scream because they can. Because it's fun. And it's very very very hard to reason with a 19-month old about proper manners in public. When my kids were little we either ate at noisy places or got our food to go and ate at a park or playground. Maybe other parents will have some clever ideas for you, but I think you may drive yourself, your kid & other customers crazy if you try to make a 19-month-old do something as unnatural (for them) as be quiet.
Melinda
I agree with the others who've said it's just not appropriate to take a toddler to certain types of restaurants. But, restaurant or no restaurant, there is one thing you can do that usually works magic on a screaming (but not crying) toddler: whisper. Usually they'll copy you. It's a game to see how loud they can yell -- and you can make it a game to see how quietly they can 'yell'.

Ever see a parent scream at a child, ''stop screaming!''? If you think about it, it's no wonder that doesn't work! A stage whispered, ''I bet you can't hear me!'' is usually more effective. Holly


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