Several arguments against the mom in the Maine diner (and why they are wrong)

When I first heard about this story last week I was a bit irritated that a restaurant owner thought they had the right to yell at people, including a child, and verbally abuse them after the fact. To fair both sides tell a different story, the parents claiming the child was a bit fussy for a few minutes and the owner seeming to believe that the child was behaving badly for a long period of time, though in either case cussing out your customers is not very professional. (There is also a bit of irony in the owner complaining about the bad behavior of a toddler while not being able to control their own emotional reactions as an adult)

However, my more general issue is how many people have responded positively to the owners behavior and some of the arguments they have used to justify their position.

1. If children behave this way it’s because the parents are terrible or the child is a “brat.”

Here is the thing that people, particularly those without kids, need to realize. Toddlers don’t usually have melt downs or get fussy because they are intentionally trying to control people or manipulate the situation, and it’s not necessarily evidence that the parent is bad at their job. Is the child being irrational? You bet, because they are 2 years old, and they don’t have the same capacity for rational thought that adults, at least ought to, have. Children have limits for stress just like adults, but their limits are lower, and they don’t have very good skills for coping with things. They are also still trying to figure out the world and what their limits are. Coping skills and logic start to develop along with language.

Even good parents have to deal with this issue with children between 1 to around 3. If they are still doing this at 5 or 6 that might indicate a developmental problem, but at 2 it’s perfectly normal, and not evidence that the child is spoiled or that the parents aren’t doing a perfectly good job raising them.

2. Keep your child out of public spaces until they learn to behave.

The first, and most obvious, issue with this is that it is the very exposure to public spaces and other people which help children learn how to socialize. Yes, there are certain places that it’s going to be best not to take them, which is why my wife and I haven’t been in a movie theater in half a year, but they need human interaction, and for that matter so do parents. Which brings me to the second issue I have with this argument.

When you go out in public you are required it interact with the public, and children are a part of that public. Parents and their toddlers are just as much a part of the public as anyone else is and have every right to have a night out too. I suggest that if you don’t want to see children you be the one to stay home, or only go out to places that don’t welcome children, of which there are plenty.

Honestly I’ve had evenings out disrupted by adults who were unnecessarily loud more often than I have had them ruined by children. How many times do you think I’ve gone up to those people and screamed at them for being too noisy? If you guessed zero you would be right, because unlike my toddler I AM and adult and I have some self control.

3 .Get a babysitter.

I mostly hear this said by people who are relatively well off, or in other words people who can generally afford to hire a baby sitter any time they want, so there is a bit of classism in this argument. Not everyone can afford a babysitter. For all you know that person out to eat with their toddler can only afford a night out at a restaurant once every 6 months and hiring a babysitter would mean they could only go out once a year. Further, some people actually like spending time with their children. Like I mentioned in point 2, you are in public and children are part of the public, so be the adult you actually purport to be and deal with it in a socially acceptable manner. It’s understandable when a two year old has a melt down in public, it’s not so understandable when an adult does it.

4. If that were my child I’d discipline them.

This is sort of an extension of point 1, but I hear this argument on it’s own quite a bit, the suggestion is that you spanked (I.E. hit) your child you could get them to quite down, and that the child’s behavior “problems” stem for the parent being too liberal or wussy to lay down the law with their child and give them a whooping if they misbehave.

First, it ought to be common sense that hitting a child is going to make cry more not less. Secondly, there is lots of psychological work that has been done which demonstrates that spanking or other forms of physical punishment do not work as long term behavior control, and don’t work very well even in the short term. In fact, some studies have linked physical discipline an increase in long term behavior problems. Further, It’s frustrating to see otherwise reasonable people buy into an idea which has largely been debunked by science because of tradition, so this point goes double if you are an atheist or skeptic reading this, because you ought to know better.

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