Does the thought alone give you anxiety? There seems to be some controversy surrounding the notion that parents should not take their kids out in public for fear of them throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target, crying loudly in a movie theater, scaling the walls of the doctor’s office, or hiding in the clothes racks at your favorite boutique to scare the other patrons (true story). But the idea that taking your child out in public actually being controversial, well, I think it’s a little extreme. After all, kids are people too! And as a parent you can’t be relegated only to kid-friendly establishments until your child is old enough to stay home by themselves. Parenthood is not punishment!
I think our society has moved past the notion that a child should be seen and not heard—and that’s a great thing! Life goes on after Baby makes their grand entrance, and now that you’re a parent you probably find yourself running more errands than you EVER thought possible. On the flip side, you don’t want to be inconsiderate of other people who might want to enjoy their time at adult-oriented establishments. So I asked several mothers of young children what their take is on this “controversy” and how to best handle these situations.
One mother wisely stated that if she’s going to spend money on movie tickets or another special outing, she wants to enjoy it instead of focusing on keeping her two rambunctious boys occupied the whole time. She doesn’t avoid these outings; she simply hires a babysitter and enjoys the outing alone with her husband. Which makes an excellent point: know your child! If he or she doesn’t do well in a certain environment, why push it? You can’t force them to act like an angel when that particular environment might make them over-stimulated, anxious, or overwhelmed. Keep the kids at home and have fun!
Another mom gauges her outings by the time of day and around her daughter’s daily routine. She tries to schedule most of her errands in the morning when her daughter is well-rested and happy. Putting those tasks off until later in the day when her daughter is tired or hungry would likely backfire.
Don’t set them up for failure! Don’t drag everyone to a nice restaurant if you’ve had a tough day, your husband came home late from work, everyone in the family is starving, and oh by the way, it’s 2 hours past your normal dinnertime/30 minutes until their bedtime. Hunger makes everyone crabby! And it’s not fair to expect your child to quietly behave him or herself at a restaurant and wait 30 minutes for their food to come out. When my friend takes her son to a restaurant, she chooses one that has a higher noise-level to help muffle the noise he makes. She will also make early-evening reservations to ensure that they are seated as soon as they arrive, preventing him from acting out simply because he’s hungry or bored.
Set them up for success! If you’re in a waiting room, going to the library, or waiting in an airport and your child needs to quietly sit still for any length of time, provide an activity (at least one!) to keep him or her entertained. For this purpose I keep a “safety kit” of sorts in my diaper bag or purse at all times. It’s a quart-sized Ziploc bag filled with crayons, tiny notepads, mini-decks of cards, stickers, etc. It’s really nothing special but since I only bring it out when we’re at these types of places, it’s something they don’t get sick of playing with. And I always have a snack or small treat! Even something as small as a Tootsie Roll will usually start things off on the right foot! In an “emergency” think about the things your child likes to play with the most—your keys, phone, photos in your wallet—and pull them out with great fanfare. It might just do the trick by avoiding an embarrassing tantrum.
Inevitably there will be a day when your child suddenly, inexplicably, changes from his typical sweet-natured self to an inconsolable mess or terrorizing beast raising major hell in the middle of dinner at your favorite restaurant. You look at the people around you: a couple on a date, a group of professionals, and a table of sweet old women. No need to panic! Just quickly excuse yourself and the child and calm them down outside or in the car. Return to your table only if you’re certain the tantrum won’t flare up again. It’s a small sacrifice that we parents must make to help our kids navigate this big grown-up world and still respect the other adults around us.