Articles and Topics
My preschooler won’t behave in restaurants
Judy Milton, Vermont
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 gasped 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 coloring sheet many restaurants provide, take along a few small but entertaining toys.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education