Dos and Don’ts

It keeps happening. This summer, Malaysia Airlines banned babies from first class flights on its Airbus A380 and McDain’s Restaurant in Pennsylvania decided to prohibit customers under the age of six. And we see another firestorm of  angry, fierce arguments about the rights of kids and families to go where they want and do as they please. This debate will never end and the often sensationalist headlines will continue as long as there are children in the world. So where’s the sane middle ground?

At the risk of sounding like a bossy mom, may I humbly offer these SUGGESTED Dos and Don’ts for both parents/caretakers and non-parents to consider when it comes to the issue of children and behavior (or misbehavior, as the case may be) in public, often confined, settings. These please-keep-in-mind tidbits are mostly about eating out in restaurants based on my experience — not necessarily expertise! — yet also apply to other stressful settings such as airplanes. Because having kids or being happily child-free factors into just about every aspect of our lives, it behooves both sides to have greater compassion. I myself need to start by forgiving more, and judging less. We are far from perfect. OK, time to step off soapbox.

I’d LOVE to hear what you readers think. Are these guidelines crazy cakes? Sensible? Hooey filled chuztpah? What would you change? What’s missing?

To Parents and Caretakers:

DO feel like you can still have a life out in the world that includes your kids.

DO eat dinner in restaurants early. But you probably knew that already.

DO continually thank your servers and everyone else who is helping out, whether it’s on an airplane or restaurant. Tip well.

DO step outside as soon as you can (gathering gear, sippy cups, other children etc. permitting) if they become noticeably disruptive. This means shouting, crying, throwing, or any sort of behavior that would be deemed intolerable for any human being, regardless of age. If you need to bail completely, restaurant staffs will gladly bring you your check quickly and pack your food to go.

DO make efforts to expose children to new environments, but be prepared to handle the consequences and get out if things get rocky.

DO try to relax. (Often the hardest one.)

DO keep in mind that people without kids want to enjoy their meal, date, etc. with reasonable amount of peace and quiet.

DO positively reinforce good behavior and respect. This can take the form of verbal compliments, a pat on the head, a new book, a cookie. Up to you. We all have different ways of handling these situations.

DO be understanding and tolerant of businesses owners that want to impose some fair restrictions on children in order to protect the experience of their customers and the integrity of their enterprise. Subjective, I know.

DO try to think back to when you were a kid. Is this someplace you would realistically be brought to and behave well?

And the corollary point: DON’T idealize your seven-year-old self.

DON’T think you can take your kids everywhere.

DON’T assume everyone else thinks your kid’s antics are adorable.

DON’T enforce unrealistic expectations. If you don’t think they can sit still through a long dinner and would rather be home, then honor that.

DON’T tolerate an outright ban on all families because some ruin it for the rest of us! This would not stand with most other groups in society.

DON’T forget that because other people might not approve of your child’s behavior or look askance doesn’t automatically mean that they are not parents themselves.

To The Child-Free:

DO understand that the old cliché is true: kids are people, too. Yes, perhaps they’re overly doted over or given too much leeway in our current parenting culture. But they have feelings and insights, and generally want to please adults.

DO remember you were a kid once. And you probably didn’t always make life perfect for your parents.

DO keep in mind that when it comes to behaving respectfully in public, many adults also have a lot to learn. (Looking at you, the guy video chatting right next to me at Intelligentsia.)

DO know parents and people who love kids respect your right to categorically dislike kids, or at least not want to actively hang out with them. They won’t necessarily always try to convince you otherwise.

DO try to remember that parenting is hard, frustrating work, and solutions to immediate challenges don’t always come easily. One-size-fits-all reprimands aren’t necessarily effective. Some children might have special needs and may not respond to what seem like simple and easy-to-follow behavioral requests. You never know.

DO understand that most — not all — parents you see struggling are probably doing the best they can, and their shame and stress levels are likely higher than your annoyance. It’s not as if they WANT this shitty, irritating thing to happen.

DO feel free to compliment well-behaved kids. Their folks will totally think you’re a rock star for doing so.

DO, if you truly must, find a way to politely tell parents/caregivers if a child is negatively impacting your dining/flying/etc. experience.

DON’T present a complaint as an attack on the child or their parenting/caretaking skills. Instead try to emphasize general courtesy rather than delivering a Parenting 101 lecture — which you may or may not be an expert in.

DON’T assume all families will be loud and obnoxious.

DON’T vilify “bad parents” who “can’t control their kids” just because you might be near one who’s being loud, physically out of control, or just an all-around pain in the arse. Again, you never know what the other circumstances might be.

DON’T refer to children as “those brats,” “demon spawn,” “snot-nosed kids,” and other insults. Remember learning back in preschool not to call people mean names?

DON’T think you can be a part of greater society and exist in a completely child-free vacuum. Or maybe you’ve figured out some kind of arrangement. Good luck with that.

DON’T expect all children to behave as “little adults.” If they can, that’s great! But not all can. Child psychology, emotional development and needs are entirely different from grown-ups. Believe me, I wish I had those things all figured out.

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