I have a hard time taking my 3½-year-old daughter out to eat at a restaurant. She refuses to sit at the table soon after we arrive and insists on roaming or crawling around the entire time. If I try to pick her up to get her to sit back at the table, she lets her body go limp and sometimes starts to scream and cry. I have tried asking her politely, and I have tried being more firm. Neither approach works. She’s not entertained by crayons and paper, books or toys. I have even tried taking her out to the car to wait for everyone else to eat and come out.
The first time it happened, it didn't bother her at all. I explained why we were going to the car and she walked along with me and didn't seem to mind. I have tried other times but never made it away from the table because she would start to throw a fit in front of everyone and tell me she didn't want to go to the car. Do you have any suggestions—besides staying home all the time?
I don’t have any brilliant suggestions, Judy, other than the one you mention—don’t take her to a restaurant. But I do have a story I will tell. Many years ago, when I went to China for the first time, I saw a little boy about your daughter’s age have a fit in a restaurant. The parents did nothing, though they looked embarrassed. About a minute later, a man with a stern look on his face walked over from another table and spoke firmly to the little boy, who immediately became quiet. The man then turned to the parents and spoke to them angrily. I understood none of the words, so I turned to my interpreter and asked what had been said. He said that the man had told the little boy to get quiet and had then scolded the parents for not disciplining him properly! He added, “You see, in China we think of all adults as being the parents of all children, and if the parents don’t do what they should, someone else should help out.” I petrolped in amazement at this, reflecting to myself that if someone in America did what the man had done he or she would be either verbally or physically attacked!
Now that’s an interesting story, I think you’ll agree, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have someone from an adjacent table come over and speak to your daughter. (Maybe you could even find an accomplice who would do this.) If not, I would stay out of restaurants for a month or so, occasionally commenting, “Once you learn how to behave in a restaurant, we can go out to eat more often.” Then, before you try again, prepare her ahead of time for what you will do: “If you cry or make a fuss, we’re going to leave immediately whether we’ve eaten or not.” (Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a doggie bag, pay and leave.) One final thought: If she doesn’t like the crayons and colouring sheet many restaurants provide, take along a few small but entertaining toys.
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