Written by Doctor G

Toddler + Restaurant = Hell. Thoughts?

I have a 2 year old daughter; she is absolutely brilliant, the kind that gets her in loads of trouble. She is incredibly hyper and sometimes aggressive (in a non violent manner). She frequently DELIBERATELY misbehaves, it’s VERY blatant. Other times, she will do something even after I ask and tell her not to. I cannot take her out to eat because she pitches fits and wants to run around (even though I have NEVER condoned that sort of behavior), she is IMPOSSIBLE to discipline. I have tried everything from not saying no unless it is dangerous behavior, to a pop on the butt after 3 strikes, timeout. Often I end up raising my voice because it is the ONLY way I can illicit any sort of response and I hate it! I don’t want to be that mom who is always yelling at her kids, but I also do not want to be the mom who can’t take her children out in public because they’re less disciplined than a pack of wolves. What do i do?

Jessica, from the UK


A:  Jessica, first of all keep in mind that she won’t be 2 years old forever.    Remember when you brought her home from the hospital and thought you’d never get a shower and take in the mail on the same day?  That phase passed and so will this one.

It sounds like you want to find a parenting strategy that works for your personality and hers.

From what you said, you’ve tried being permissive except in the case of physical danger and that didn’t work.  That is a good thing!  It means your standards for behavior are higher than whatever a two year old thinks of to do.  She will meet your expectations (eventually) if you hold her to them.

You’ve tried spanking and found that it is also not effective.  I am glad you abandoned this one, it often teaches lessons we don’t want our kids to learn.

Timeout can take a while to stick, and your daughter may have been too young to get it.  The real magic of timeout is not in sitting on the step or bench or whatever.  The usefulness is in having a brief and pointed separation from parent.  Parent face time is the sun, moon and stars for most toddlers and they will behave as badly or well as they need to in order to get your undivided attention.

Safe separation may work for your daughter.  Just make sure it means less drama, not more.  She doesn’t get to react to the time out in a way that engages you more.  She gets positive attention (and lots of it) for doing what you asked her to do.

For your very smart child, make the line from good behavior to good consequences very clear.  Does she LIKE going out to eat with you?  Go someplace close to home (and cheap) and make the rules really clear from the beginning.  Yelling, running, throwing food is not restaurant behavior and we will put $ on the table and leave immediately if she doesn’t listen to your correction the first time.

What is the hardest part?  Doing exactly what you said you’d do, the first time.  Don’t ask, bargain or plead.  Just pick her up and go home.  She will get the message after a time or two.

Remember that every time you stick to your guns you are teaching your daughter this most important lesson: she can count on you.  You will do what you say and not do what you say you won’t do.  This will give her a strong foundation to stand on.

Let me know how it goes!

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5 thoughts on “Toddler + Restaurant = Hell. Thoughts?”

  1. “Doing exactly what you said you’d do, the first time.  Don’t ask, bargain or plead.”

    this is exactly why I was successful as a nanny. Great advice. I know it will probably be harder with my own child, but it works.

  2. I started a 123 rule when my kids were little. This rule was especially effective when the kids were learning their boundaries and control. The 123 rule goes like this: I explain to the child that they have a choice. They can choose to do what mommy asks of them or they can choose to have mommy do it for them or enforce disciine like a time out. The counting out loud to 3 gives them time to think & make the choice. The suggestion above is very good. Take her somewhere. Explain what is acceptible behavior (in kid form of course) When she starts acting up, give her the chance to choose good behavior (counting out loud 123) or you go home. My kids are school age and I still use 123. It works pretty well for us.

  3. I completely agree with you AND DanaK. Do what you say you will do the first time. Consistency is what’s always key with kids. It stinks when it’s not what we WANT to do as parents (either because we WANT to stay and finish a meal… grocery shopping… or whatever) or it’s not convenient at the time. Parenting is always going to be convenient. It’s up to us to train our children about what’s right and wrong so that other people won’t have to do it later. Eventually, we all learn that we can’t have our own way 100% of the time. I’d rather that my kids learn that from ME first!

    1. It is really tempting, because of our huge love for our kids, to never be the bearer of bad news. But we don’t do our kids favors when we let them think that the world will accommodate their self-involved behavior. I have seen teens shocked and amazed when they lost a job or a friend because of bad manners. Thanks for your comment!

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