The Only Parenting Advice You’ll Ever Need

March 13th, 2013

I feel like I’ve reached a stage in my life where I can give parenting advice. For one thing, I’ve co-authored two books about raising kids with autism, so right there I have some decent credentials. I’ve also raised four kids, and the feedback I’ve gotten about them has been pretty positive–so far teachers and administrators and employers seem happy to have them around, and I feel the same way, which maybe doesn’t sound like such a huge recommendation, but trust me, there are some parents who breathe a sigh of relief when their kids leave the house.

So I was thinking recently about good parenting versus bad parenting and after hours of contemplation and research, I realized it can all be boiled down to one small and easily-followed but incredibly important bit of advice:

If your kid screams in a restaurant, take him the hell out of there.

Seriously.

Look, I get it. Eating out can be fraught–kids can be overhungry, overtired, angry that the food doesn’t taste like the food at home, upset because they spilled something, upset because you didn’t let them spill something, uncomfortable in a high chair, uncomfortable in a regular chair, too cold, too hot, too antsy, too bored . . .  It’s easy for all that to lead to some crying, maybe a little screaming. And what do you do then?  Most parents try to shush their kids, try to reason with them, try to ignore them, all the while desperately trying to eat their own dinners. The last thing they want to do is leave. Then they’ll never get to finish.

The problem is there’s only one right thing to do with a crying kid in a restaurant: explain that if she doesn’t stop immediately, she’ll have to leave the restaurant, because she’s disturbing the other guests. And then follow through with what you’ve said.

Carry her out!

Carry her out!

Why does it matter?  Well, think about all a kid learns from this one brief experience:

1. He learns that the privilege of going out somewhere special is contingent on good behavior. It’s the beginning of a lifetime of learning how to behave in public. You want your child to be polite, use a fork, dress nicely? This is where all of that begins.

2. She learns to respect parental authority. You’ve laid down the rule: we can’t let you stay in here if you’re going to be disruptive. And you follow through on it: we’re taking you out because you’re still being disruptive. Simple, clean, elegant. It’s how parenting should be: no anger, no abuse, no irrationality. Just a simple, “Only quiet people get to eat in restaurants, so if you can’t be quiet, you can’t eat here.” And the truth is, kids don’t like to spiral out of control. They like to feel their parents are watching over them and will always keep them from going too far.

3. At the same time, she learns that she has control over her own behavior and its consequences: screaming in a public place means you lose the privileges associated with that place; calming down brings them back. This is the kind of connection you want your child to make. Parents have authority; she has control.

4. He learns empathy and awareness of other people. I can’t tell you how many kids on the west side seem incapable of understanding that they’re not the center of the entire universe. I once saw a kid lie down in the middle of a stairway that about a hundred people were using and just stay there. What did his mother say? Not, “You have to get up or I’ll pick you up: these people need to get by.” Nope. She stood there smiling and remonstrating with him at some length: “Oh, honey, don’t do that. Please get up. You could get hurt.” People backed up behind them for an entire flight and she’s encouraging him to think about himself. Anyway, my point is, kids need to understand that other people are eating in that restaurant and those people have a right to a quiet, pleasant environment. Want him to get involved with community service down the road? This is where it starts, with a basic awareness of other people’s needs.

And as far as missing out on your meal goes, you’ll probably be back inside pretty soon, with a much quieter, calmer child–there’s nothing like sitting in a boring car with a calm but stony-silent parent to bring home how much more fun it was to be eating french fries and drinking chocolate milk. You won’t have to do it often–I don’t think we had to carry any of our kids out of a restaurant more than once.

So that’s it. That’s the sum total of my parenting advice: take your kids out of a restaurant if they refuse to be quiet, and you’ll raise sweet, well-behaved, empathetic little angels. Let them scream and carry on without any repercussions and they’ll be entitled little monsters. It’s your call.

Oh, and if anyone knows the mother who was seated about two tables away from us at Kay N’ Dave’s last weekend, will you please forward this post to her? She really needs to read it.

  • Katherine says:

    this is one place where you and my husband are totally on the same page. He has dragged our kids out so many times. I always thought it was a good idea, I just never wanted to leave my glass of wine. He get’s all the credit here.

  • Claire says:

    Good man.

  • HIbijibi says:

    This is a post I wish every California and East Coast parent would read! In the South, kids are much politer; although there are other problems….

  • Looks like the manners lesson was lost on HIbijibi.

  • Great article! As a parent, I like to think I behaved this way more often than not, even though I wasn’t perfect. But I have successfully launched three amazing kids into the world, all of whom are sensitive to others and compassionate, and who do know how to behave well in public places!

  • jade says:

    I recall very vividly my parents didn’t take me out of the restaurant and go home, per se…but my dad did put me in the bathroom once when I was acting up. He said, “If you want to cry, you can cry all you want in here. When you’re ready to be a big girl and act nicely, then you can come out.” I sniffled a few tears, and within a few minutes, came out and joined the rest of the table and had a perfectly fine evening after. I can’t say objectively how I turned out…but I do have a doctorate and work in social justice…so maybe there’s a link. 😉

  • Janet Dubac says:

    Wow! Great advice! My kids have a habit of acting like “monsters” when we go to public places like malls and restaurants and no matter what we do, they won’t behave and we always go home earlier than we planned. I will try this next time and I hope it will work well for me. 🙂

  • Claire says:

    One last bit of advice, Janet: it’s important to do this calmly, almost like it’s not a decision YOU’RE making, just a rule you’re abiding by. “I’m sorry, but we can’t disturb other people at a restaurant, so if you can’t be quiet, we’ll have to go sit in the car until you can.” No anger, no other threat–just keep to “you can’t be here if you’re going to be noisy.” Kids figure this stuff out SO quickly and they almost always want to be where the fun is. Which isn’t in the car! Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

  • Irene Dawn says:

    Wonderful advice Claire..cementing my belief that you are and always have been a wonderful mother.

  • DeeDee says:

    The most impressive, sensible advice on child behavior I have ever read.
    Thank you!

  • Bonnie says:

    So glad I found your name, your blog, and your advice. We are SO on the same page! I, too, have raised a child with autism, have another with learning disabilities, and another who has been a pain in the butt for various other reasons. All of the extended family has always viewed me as the “bitch” for being the disciplinarian; the one who stands on the “say what you mean and mean what you say, or you give the wrong message” soapbox. I loved this article and will share it with all I know (and am related to). Thank you.

  • Claire says:

    Hey, Bonnie, nice to meet you! thanks for sharing the article. And thanks to everyone for saying such nice things about it. I’m glad it resonated with people.

  • kris says:

    I really enjoyed the two articles I read. I agree with you while heartedly I was a single mom for the most part of my kids life I did not even go to high school. I got my ged college education while raising three kids alone I followed your advice before I read it that is what I lived by my kids are now almost all adults one almost done in school as a social worker, one in the navy, and my last one is going in the air force. It’s all about teaching them respect and consequences. Thank you

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