Jo Sea­gar: rein­ing in kids in cafés

Jo Sea­gar is all for ‘family friendly’ cafés, but is ap­palled that on many oc­ca­sions it be­comes ‘family frenzy’.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

WHEN DID IT be­come ‘not PC’ to tell a child to ‘be quiet, sit still and be­have’ when in a restaurant or café? In re­cent months, while hav­ing a cof­fee and catch-up with friends in var­i­ous cafés, I’ve had to put up with kids run­ning round and crash­ing into our ta­ble, caus­ing cof­fee to slosh out of the cups, chairs be­ing bumped into me, and I’ve had to strug­gle to hear my friends speak over the noise of scream­ing chil­dren. We’ve even had food and pa­per-nap­kin mis­siles thrown across the room at us, and – can you be­lieve it? – one cheeky lit­tle rat­bag helped her­self to my gooey dough­nut and licked off the jam and cream (I was on a mar­ket­ing and re­search trip, you un­der­stand – that’s why I was eat­ing it in the first place).

This be­hav­iour seems to have be­come ac­cept­able. The dough­nut child’s ‘yummy, rather bored look­ing mummy’ rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, you know how kids are.” No apol­ogy, noth­ing – she didn’t even buy me a re­place­ment dough­nut.

I was shocked. I know it’s a badge of hon­our for an eat­ing es­tab­lish­ment to be family-friendly and wel­com­ing to chil­dren, but who’s the boss here? When did these kids take over?

When did the

mean­ing of ‘family-friendly’ be­come ‘any out of con­trol bad be­hav­iour is ac­cept­able and the lit­tle dar­ling is al­ways in the right’? Learn­ing man­ners may be a lengthy process, but I think a limit has been reached and it’s time we took back con­trol.

My adored grand­chil­dren are far from per­fect ac­cord­ing to ‘Miss Man­ners’ book of etiquette, but there is a cer­tain stan­dard of be­hav­iour I ex­pect when I take them out to eat in a pub­lic place.

I prep them well be­fore­hand – and read­ily ad­mit there’s of­ten a bribe in­volved – but if the be­hav­iour stan­dards we’ve dis­cussed are not met, then we are out of there. This is the con­se­quence. I’m big on con­se­quences. Restau­rants and cafés are all about eat­ing and drink­ing in a pleas­ant, so­cia­ble sit­u­a­tion. They are not places to hoon around in… we can go to the park for that sort of carry-on.

I think there’s a whole new café cul­ture out there where par­ents are let­ting their chil­dren run riot. I’m quite speech­less when they get up to leave and walk away from an ab­so­lute mess – all the sugar sa­chets ripped open, food and drink spilt on the floor – with not a peep from the par­ents about clean­ing up, and prob­a­bly no apol­ogy or tip to the poor wait staff whose job it is to smile and be ‘child friendly’.

Per­haps some par­ents think this sort of be­hav­iour is their chil­dren be­ing cre­ative and full of high jinks, when, ac­tu­ally, it’s just an­noy­ing.

There’s a school of par­ent­ing that will do any­thing to make their off­spring happy, engi­neer­ing their lives to avoid any dis­ap­point­ment or dis­plea­sure. These chil­dren are show­ered with praise and con­stant at­ten­tion to en­sure they have great ‘self-es­teem’. But where is this tak­ing them? Per­haps to not a good place.

Go­ing out to a café or restaurant should be a lovely treat. It should be about po­litely choos­ing and or­der­ing food, then sit­ting qui­etly wait­ing for it to ar­rive. And when it does ar­rive, you use your best man­ners to eat it. This is an es­sen­tial life skill, but it can still be fun and the chil­dren can talk and join in the con­ver­sa­tion. I love chil­dren’s con­ver­sa­tion – my lit­tle grand­sons have firm opin­ions on ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing and they tell me long, com­pli­cated sto­ries, of­ten with sound ef­fects, funny ac­cents and lots of dra­matic role play.

Yes, chil­dren do get bored hav­ing to wait pa­tiently, so a sen­si­ble par­ent or granny will have come pre­pared with a sticker book, colour­ing pens, or even an elec­tronic toy.

Be­ing well be­haved and po­lite is not about sti­fling chil­dren’s creativ­ity, it’s not in­tro­duc­ing some 18th-cen­tury op­pres­sive ideas – it’s just mod­el­ling a good, so­cia­ble way to be­have.

It’s about be­ing a good ex­am­ple

to fol­low.

One cheeky lit­tle rat­bag helped her­self to my gooey dough­nut and licked off the jam and cream.

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