How to Parent in Public

More Helpful Advice

child in restaurant

Ericka McConnell

From the children's librarian:
"No one is ever too old for a picture book. I cringe when I overhear parents say to their child, 'Oh, you can't check out a picture book. You're in third grade.' I think parents forget about the greatness of picture books -- the stunning illustrations and the wonderful way these stories come alive when you simply read them aloud. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse, and Miss Nelson Is Missing! are three of my favorite bigger-kid picture books. If your child is struggling to read, take turns. First, you read a page; then your child takes a stab at the next page. The whole experience will feel more rewarding and less tedious for your child because you're sharing in the effort. If on the other hand you have a particularly precocious reader, be careful when aging her up. Just because your second-grader can read the Harry Potter books doesn't mean she should. Parts of them can be scary! To keep an advanced 7-year-old stimulated, I first suggest the Chronicles of Narnia series, by C. S. Lewis. These are like the Harry Potter books, except they have more fantasy than frightening stuff. Also, try Dragon Rider, by Cornelia Funke."

From the family-restaurant owner:
"To keep kids happy while dining out, bribing them with your iPhone isn't the only solution. Try sitting at another table and pretending they're not yours. Just kidding -- kind of. If you are out with friends and your kids are over age 5, seat the adults at one table and the children at another right next to yours. Kids love being treated like adults, and they actually fuss less when they have a little space from their parents.

If you have toddlers, go early (i.e., 5 to 6 p.m.) -- the kitchen can jump on your order and you may not be crammed next to other diners, so you won't feel as stressed if the milk is spilled or they hoot a little. Another tip: I try to find the restaurant's menu online and take my kids' orders before we get there. Hungry kids will be able to eat faster, since you can order their food when the waiter comes to ask what drinks you want. I also make a point of asking for the check when the server stops by to see how we like everything -- it assures we can make a quick exit if the kids get impatient."

From the birthday-party entertainer:
"If your child is a guest at a party, remind her on the way there that it's Chlo?'s birthday, so Chlo? will get to go first, sit in the front, and blow out the candles. This can help stop tussles over toys and attention before they start. Remind your kid that she'll get her chance in the spotlight another time. If that's hard for your young one to handle, then stick close by to help prevent any meltdowns.

If your child is on the shy side, give him time to warm up. I see parents getting frustrated when their 3-year-old isn't jumping right in or participating with the ribbons and scarves or instruments I'm pulling out for them to dance and play with. Don't push your child to get involved if he's not ready -- all the action can end up being overwhelming.

Also, keep the guest list manageable. Hey, there's a reason most invitations come in packs of eight! Smaller parties are more fun and less intimidating for most little kids."

From the flight attendant:
"When traveling with kids, always pack extras -- of everything. If you have a long flight, take along a change of clothes for everyone. Drinks spill, dinners drop, and there is always the risk of motion sickness. And even if nothing goes wrong, airplanes are notoriously chilly, so bring socks and sweaters to stay cozy at 30,000 feet. Also, be sure to pack plenty of snacks! Planes have such limited storage space that we often don't have extra food for those times when hunger strikes -- especially in the event of an unexpected delay.

And remember: Don't be afraid to ask us to help! We're happy to lend a hand, whenever possible. Granted, during the busy boarding period, it's not always easy to deal with individual requests, but after takeoff most of us are more than willing to hold a baby or watch sleeping children while you use the restroom. Baby food and formula can always be warmed up, since we have hot water. Just keep us out of the discipline. Don't say, 'The flight attendant is going to get really cross with you.' We don't deserve to be the bad guy!"

Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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