The Disciplinarian versus The Coddler

by Jessie K on June 25, 2012

A week or so after Jake got home from Afghanistan, we were having a late lunch at a  restaurant with June.  June was having a…well, I don’t want to call it a temper tantrum, but she was howling plaintively and flinging crackers and ketchup packets off the table.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula S. June 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm


Oh, my! I hope you reach a compromise on this issue soon. I don’t have children, but I have been to many a restaurant where children were misbehaving, and it is not pleasant. The worst is when they scream in a pitch that makes it feel like someone is slicing off the top of my head with a knife. You will do her no favor if you let it escalate to that point.

I can’t tell you exactly how my parents they did it, I just can’t remember a time when I didn’t understand that in places like restaurants, churches, or anywhere they said so, one had to sit and be quiet. Mother was always prepared with a quiet toy with which we could occupy ourselves. She was secure in the knowledge that she could take her children anywhere and they would be welcome.

If you nip this behavior in the bud, you will be doing her a tremendous favor. It will be of far more benefit to her than the temporary pleasure of throwing catsup. I have seen the results of people ignoring such behavior because they thought it was cute, and by the time the child is old enough that it isn’t cute anymore, the battle has been lost and a few years later, they are saying “I just can’t do anything with him!”

Charlotte June 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm


My BFF has five, including a pair of twins. Since I was recently bereaved when the twins were born, I spent a lot of time with them as babies. We were in a restaurant when they were about June’s age (old enough to sit in the restaurant high chairs, not totally verbal yet). It was midweek and the restaurant was pretty empty, but even so, when Vivi shrieked I instinctively reached over and clapped my hand across her mouth. “Oh no Vivi,” I said. “We don’t do that in restaurants.” Then I thought oh no, now I’ve done it. I looked over at Nina, their mom, who just laughed and said “It takes a village.” (And the babies still left a lot of ripped up bread on the floor. We left an enormous tip.)
But seriously, I’m with Paula. We had terrifyingly good table manners as little kids, in part because it was the only way we got to go out with our parents. If you misbehaved, you were banished to the car (not really an option these days). And way back when I was a nanny, the woman I worked for had me take Liza, who was then four, and had Down Syndrome, to lunch on Saturday so we could practice manners.
I guess my long-winded point is that perhaps it isn’t so much an issue of discipline vs. coddling, but not underestimating June’s ability to learn appropriate behaviors.

Ms. Shypoke June 26, 2012 at 9:38 am


We also got the car treatment as kids.. but my mom would go with us and sit in the car with us until the rest of the people were finished with their meals. If it was just the kids and mom.. we paid and went home. My dad was military too and my mom had to manage moving from place to place with two children every year so she definitely had to deal with restaurants and cranky tired kids. There were times when eating out was our only option.. and we learned pretty quickly what acceptable dining room behavior was.. but that didn’t stop the occasional mess from an overturned

Even so, I think when a child is old enough to understand the word no.. and “almost” two is probably getting to that point.. there should be some expectation that condiments won’t be used as missiles.

Dining out with kids is definitely a challenge.. they don’t have the patience to wait for food when they are hungry and don’t enjoy just sitting around and talking either. That of course is no excuse for letting them run wild and ruining everyone else’s meal.

I think the way you eventually handled it by removing the temptation from her.. and cutting the meal short were probably the best ways to deal with her.

I probably lean a little more towards expecting silence vs complete stillness.. but sometimes taking the child outside to walk around can relieve some of the wiggles and give other diners a break too:)

Elizabeth M. June 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm


I read this to my husband, former military and highly disciplined himself. The first thing he said was, “you can’t discipline a one year old. They can’t reason and they can’t grasp the concept of sitting and waiting for food or waiting for others to finish food. It’s not fair to ask them to do that at that age.”

My husband I used to talk about the restaurant manners of children when Henry was an infant and we agreed that we could never tolerate the behaviors we sometimes witnessed in other children. I think that we still feel that way on the whole, however, our perspective has altered. Henry is now 2 1/2 and generally very well-behaved for his age. He doesn’t throw food, he’s not a messy eater, and he generally has a cheery disposition. That being said, for about the last year and half, we have avoided restaurants like the plague, always suggesting cooking in or carrying out to anyone who wants to take our entire family out to a meal. We do practice formal dining at home (all sitting down to a meal together formal, not candlesticks and shrimp forks formal). We make him say please, use a fork, don’t let him grab across the table, etc. And, when we do go out, we bring crayons, small toys, snacks, and inevitably, someone takes Henry on a walk as we tag-team eat our meals… because that is a long time for a little one sit in a high chair and quietly occupy himself.

maria June 26, 2012 at 8:58 am


—“just step over him” was a common thing I’d say to people who’d gawk at my temper tantrum throwing son….either they’d smile or gasp…good thing I’m part of the I don’t give a flying flip what “they” think club. Besides there is nothing worse than trying to teach your kid a behavior lesson in a restaurant–with embarrassment as your motivation while having crackers thrown in your face. Jake will probably learn in time that it’s just better to chuckle and say “kids will be kids” and watch out for that cracker. Or as a soldier would say “incoming!”

Jessie K June 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm


“Just step over him.” I love that!

Ms. Shypoke June 27, 2012 at 8:43 am


While I don’t get worked up over what other people “think”.. I also think that can swing over the other way in that people feel they can “do whatever they want” and other people should just suck it up. If your kid is in a public place and causing a huge ruckus and impairing the ability of others to enjoy their dining experience (or shopping experience.. whatever), you owe them the courtesy of removing your child and let the kid do his thing where it won’t bother them.

At that point, it’s not a matter of what others “think” but more, you are not the only person who matters in the world and part of living in a polite society means we try not to inflict discomfort on others whenever possible.

No, that doesn’t mean you have to yank the kid out at the first (or third) cracker packet or whine, but you shouldn’t really let it go on so long that you are ruining other people’s day. Of course, there are places where there aren’t many options (airplane).. but when you have the choice to go elsewhere and finish the issue “in private”.

Of course, the venue can also dictate the level of tolerance people should have. I would expect the parent to react more quickly in more adult establishments or situations.. but if it were chuckie cheese, McDonald’s or the Food Lion, I would be more tolerant because in the first two places you EXPECT kids.. and in the third.. sometimes. you just need to grocery shop.. even if the child is not going along with the

Paula S. June 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm


You bring up an interesting point. My husband and I have long decried the invention of the playground equipped fast food restaurants. Just because you are on a schedule or a budget and have to stop at one to eat doesn’t mean you should have no expectation of being able to eat, converse, and relax in peace. There is ONE McDonald’s in this whole metropolitan area that has no playground. It is far more spacious than the ones devoting square footage to playgrounds, more nicely appointed, and far quieter. We call it the Adult McDonald’s.

When we were growing up, going out to eat and going to a playground were two totally different activities, each with their own set of expectations in behavior. This restaurant/playground crap is causing kids to think going out to eat is related to climbing, screaming, and running amok.

Another thing to think about… sister-in-law only allows her kids into those playgrounds as a rare treat, because she fears they are germ magnets. July 1, 2012 at 12:15 am


I never assume a screaming child in a store is throwing a tantrum. I treat it as though the child is a potential kidnap victim, rushing to its aid and calling for security until the identity of the person can be established and reassured the child is really with its rightful parent/guardian. After which we can discuss how inconsiderate that person is for subjecting the rest of the public to that type of behavior.

Kat June 26, 2012 at 10:41 am


Having worked with infants, toddlers, and preschools for years I can tell you they understand more than most people give them credit for. Setting the precedent for good manners can never begin too early – but you do have to take into consideration their attention span. Better to distract and interact with a little one than to expect them to sit quietly while waiting. It’s always easier to intercept them on their way to bad behavior than to attempt to stop it later on. As for your parenting styles, you might find a happy middle ground for both of you with Love and Logic. We use it all the time with the kiddos at work and it’s amazing how quickly it changes their whole attitude. Works well with our strong-willed, explosive 5-year-old at home, too.

Janelle June 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm


We just never went to restaurants. Period. Too difficult, and too expensive. And never enjoyable.

Diane June 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm


Sorry but I’m with Jake on this one. Children (even the youngest ones) want their parents to set limits on their behavior because if no one else does then they are left to their own devices and that’s a pretty scary responsibility for their tiny shoulders. It is never too early to let them know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. You don’t have to be heavy handed or mean. You just need to be firm, fair and consistent.

Brenda June 26, 2012 at 9:10 pm


I’m with Kat, it’s never too soon and keep in mind their short attention spans. As Auntie I always made sure my nieces and nephews behaved well enough not to bother other diners. As a diner I have never enjoyed children screaming, objects flying on my table from the next booth/table, or parents chasing after their kids who are allowed to walk around unattended.

Paula S. June 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm


I am so with you. We have a favorite Tex-Mex restaurant that has a huge deck around two sides of the place for outdoor dining. A crisp fall afternoon, deck table over looking the river, a Dos XX and good good food……heaven. On one memorable occasion two children were being allowed to constantly run from one end to the other, vibrating the deck and making a lot of noise. Several times they nearly knocked down the waitress as she struggled out the door with a heavy tray….hell.

The point several of us are trying to make is that if you insist on good behavior from the beginning, you will raise a well behaved child who will be welcome everywhere, but if you let her have the upper hand until she is “old enough” to teach, you may have a devil of a time ever getting control. Trust me, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the ineffectual parents of kids gone bad saying they can’t do anything with them, and I’ve seen the other parents remarking behind their backs that it is their own fault for not insisting on good behavior when they were still young and controllable.

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