Do your little brats offend travelers?

Iden and Erysse fighta

When we were young and childless, Chris and I would joke that we loved kids one of two ways: in a cream sauce or slowly roasted over an open flame.

We still find that kind of amusing in a macabre way. So it really shouldn’t have shocked us when our little snowflake became the fly in someone’s soup at a restaurant a few years ago.

The incident happened at an airport restaurant in Detroit after a long flight. We had to let our two-year-old toddle around the restaurant a little. He grabbed a fork and walked around the table.

Seconds later, we heard another patron yelling: “What makes you think I’d want to interact with your son?”

And there was Aren, playfully waving a fork at the offended guest. Oops.

Has this ever happened to you?

As new parents, Chris and I were mortified. We felt like we’d been slapped. The man continued to complain to the server and anybody else within earshot.

“I don’t know if that’s acceptable where you come from,” he hissed, as Aren slowly backed away. “But it isn’t here.”

Were we being bad parents? Had we broken an unwritten rule (“Don’t let you kids make eye contact with strangers”?)

I get it. There are places where kids aren’t welcome. They include:

  • Fancy restaurants.
  • Casinos.
  • Strip clubs.

Also, I get that until your children are capable of understanding how to act and can control their behavior or understand the responsibility inherent in a situation there are activities you should hold off in participating.

For example:

  • SCUBA diving.
  • Observing a surgical procedure.
  • Group meditation.
  • Family pictures (see below).

Family Picture Erysse Pops

Still, if you’re in a public area you should expect to have to deal with the public, right?

How should you respond when this happens? Do you slink off, tail between your legs? Apologize politely? Or, as I was sorely tempted, do you give the offended patron a piece of your mind?

Do your little brats offend travelers?

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Kari Haugeto

Kari is a serial entrepreneur with an education addiction and a profound curiosity that, more often then not, fuels some pretty incredible adventures. Currently her attention is focused on social and digital media technology and she is developing a project with her family of five and a variety of sponsors to share their cross-country adventures online in an interactive, socially responsible, educational and authentic manner.


  • directions

    Children should not be allowed to get down from their seat in a restaurant, it’s rude to others nor should they be allowed to yell, cry, complain or any other disturbing thing just leave with them if that starts, what is wrong with the the selfish self centered parents to think it’s okay for the kid to disrupt others..I taught my 5 children to respect others from the time they were little and they did. If they acted out we left.

    • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

      Thank you, may I have another?

    • Peter S

      Wow, as a new parent, can you please share your wisdom with the world? Sounds like your kids were just beyond awesome, and never caused a hint of trouble. I think you should market this as a course. You could make millions. “Turn your kids into amazing children like mine are – Anything else is unacceptable, and if your kid isn’t as amazing as mine, they should be put down like an injured horse.”

      Nice attitude. The irony is that YOU’RE the one calling other people self-centered.

    • deb

      I agree, to a point. When a child cries, that usually means they are very hungry and Parents took toooo long to get ‘em fed, or that they are in physical or emotional distress. New places are very scary for little ones. That’s why I tried to make going out a very special, dress up occassion, and be as frequent as I could manage. Best thing to do with a small child when you get to the restaurant (or airport) is get ‘em to the bathroom! One less thing for them to wiggle or cry about. Kids don’t have the emotional or mental filters adults have, and whether a parent likes it or not, parents have to see things from the kids’ view, literally. SusyTurc has the right idea…off times, family section, whatever it takes to keep everyone at least calm, and fed quickly. Airports can be particularly frightening….noises, people moving quickly, people should cut everyone, including themselves, some slack….if ya can’t stand the kids, go to the bar and feast on bloody marys and the celery instead of a lousy micro waved burger!

    • Jim Zakany

      I have what I like to think of as normal children (actually, one is developmentally delayed, so there’s that). But, like you, we established the behavioral expectation that they will sit in their seat at a restaurant, just like us.

      I think that’s all you were saying.

      Not that you or your children were perfect. Heck, although mine kept seated, they loved to peer over the backs of the booth. Always telling them to turn around. I’m sure they annoyed others with that, despite our attempts to keep them from doing so.

      • Bignevermo

        I always thought that was cute(peering over the bench behind them) I have no problems with a little one coming over to my table…as long as they dont stab me with a fork! :)

    • http://werelivingafulllife.blogspot.com/ jen

      I had five kids too and I’ve found that babies can be expected to act like babies. What’s sad is when adults act like babies!

    • Bignevermo

      Yeah poor you…to have a little kid come up and interact with you while dining…TIE THAT SCURVY DOG TO THE YARDARM…ARRRRGGGHHHH! KEEL HAUL EM!

  • SuziTurc

    While I agree to a point with the comment from directions, to the point that children need to be taught manners and appropriate behavior in a restaurant (and various other situations,) the gentleman in your example should have realized…it was an airport restaurant. Children – and people – are out of their routines. Maybe he needed playtime as well.

    My husband and I decided we would never be afraid to travel with our children. While not the jet-setters you are, we go where with want and are glad our children have the experience. When I see other parents dealing with tired or rambunctious children, I hope they realize that we’ve been there and that it’s a small price to deal with for amazing memories.

    • Jim Zakany

      Yep, the child in the story was two years old. The other patron does not have that excuse.

  • deb

    I took my 12 months apart girls out nearly everywhere since they were infants. Except for breakfast, I fed them before we went out. I wasn’t taking them for a meal, more like teaching them to behave in a civilized manner. I carried a busy bag, until they were 11 and 12. I had crayons, coloring books, small toys and books they hadn’t read before. I got nasty looks and nasty comments from other diners when they saw the already fed girls having dessert while we parents were having dinner. I have the right to take my kids anywhere appropriate, but I don’t have the right to inflict lousy behavior on others. Hungry kids have a difficult time controlling themselves, therefore busy bag and feeding little ones before going out. There are phases that NO child should be out in the civilized world, and that’s when I hired a sitter and left them home! When we traveled, we hired a teenager we trusted, to come along. She had the days to herself if she wanted, but come 3pm and naptime, the girls were hers. Dad and I would go out for adult time. When they got older, then we made sure the hotel had bonded and insured sitters for us to get some quick adult time. It takes thinking and preplanning to take kids anywhere, no matter the age, but everyone, family and the rest of the world is better for it.

    • Ali’s Grammy

      deb — perfection! You should teach this course… in common sense and calm, sensible parenting

      • deb

        Thank you, Ali’s Grammy. As the kids got older, around 4 and 5, I realized that the “bad behavior” trigger all too frequently, was their dad ( my now ex). We finally agreed to separate vacations…he went, I went, then I took the kids. A poorly behaved small child is one thing, but a grown man in his fifties tossing a tantrum in public, or instigating one from his kids is just too darned much, even for me! When we HAD to travel together, as a couple or a family, I’d just point to the bar and tell him, “TIME OUT!”

    • Jim Zakany

      I’m guessing the nasty looks were because they thought you were feeding them ice cream for dinner. Obviously, they were ignorant of your girls having already eaten a healthy meal.

      • Sonia Vining

        I’m an elementary teacher, so I deal with other people’s small children as a profession. However, if the kids aren’t being disruptive, then in my opinion, other adults have no right to give nasty comments or looks, since they’re NOT THEIR CHILDREN. Mind your own business, folks!

        • Jim Zakany

          I don’t disagree with you.

  • Donna

    As a single mom who is also a pilot and travels a lot, I would never get to eat if I had to leave with my child every time he acts up during our travels. In countres like Mexico, there was never harsh words at restaurants when my child acted his age. Quite the contrary, waiters would help out, other guests would be friendly and it was a great feeling.

    Sure, fancy places are not appropriate.

    I think a child should learn manners but they are still children and when travelling you are out in public. What can you do but your best? If someone complains, then a polite comment sometimes helps. I will apologize for his bad manners and explain that we’ve had a long travel day. Who can’t understand that?

    I have some meal strategies, such as I make sure he is really hungry on the meals that we’ll eat out, no snacks. I bring books, I bring crayons, I bring my tablet with a fun new game WITH HEADPHONES…if it comesto that.

    Also, don’t be afraid to ask to be seated in an empty section of the restaurant or near other families if they don’t do it automatically. Eat at off times…there are ways of maing it work.

    If they all fail, you are not a bad parent nor is your child a bad child…it’s just one of those days and apparently Mr. Grumpy at the other tale was having one too.

    • Bignevermo

      VIVA MEXICO!

  • deb

    I think the only time I was embarrassed by my kid and a stranger was when #1 was about 15 months, I had had #2 a few months before and we decided to stop to eat before going home after getting me outta the house and doing a little driving around…#1 was standing next to the table, not in the aisle, and she was looking around. She has always had a love of sports (She majored in broadcast journalism with an eye to side line sports reporter!) and avidly watched anything on tv that looked like sports. Suddenly, she let out a squeal and pointed to a VERY tall Black gentleman, and yelled, “B-BALL, Mama, B-BALL!” He just smiled and waved back, miming a slam dunk. Made her day, I tell ya, and those who got the joke, all laughed, too.

    • jebaker

      Just great, your daughter is profiling black people. How embarrassing is that. Not funny

      • deb

        She was a racist at 15 months? Profiling? Seriously? If the darling, tall, Black gentleman was so gracious and thought it funny, what was the problem? Yeah, I was embarrassed, but the gentleman was smiling and making a child laugh, too. Do you think he shoulda stood up, came over and smacked her or called Al Sharpton and made a huge scene? C’mon, jebaker, lighten up. Kids say the darndest things. It’s not like she yelled the N-word and covered her head with the white table cloth, like a pointed hood. Sheesh…TIME OUT, jebaker…GO TO THE BAR!

  • http://www.twocannoli.com/ Kristin S.

    Frankly, I think too many people are a pain in the butt about it and ridiculously intolerant. We were ALL kids once. Most of us were wiggly little munchkins. It’s not that big of a deal. My child is very well behaved because that’s his personality; we’re lucky that he’s so chill. But he’s still 1 or 2 or 3 and he will cry. He will be upset. He will be loud at times. I do the best I can, and I appreciate travelers who can roll with it the best they can.

  • Mary

    Learning good manners begins at home. If children are allowed to roam around the dining room and not sit at the table with others at home, why expect them to do that in public? I had a friend years ago who began teaching her toddler manners and by the time the girl was 10, she was able to go anywhere and interact with all sorts of people in a respectful manner. I give hungry and slightly unruly children some slack while traveling but that slack doesn’t extend to parents who are oblivious to their children’s behaviors. If you have small children, you must plan in advance for their needs (including regular feedings!) and not leave it to chance.

    BTW….not a criticism but a question. Is letting a 2 year old leave the table with a fork in her hand a really good idea?

    • trskms

      I’m going to agree. I never let any of my three children down to roam the restaurant. They stayed with me … seated. If they needed “roaming time” then I’d take them outside to walk around until the food came.

      I’m not one for allowing “kids to be kids” when it is rude to other paying customers.

      Now, keep in mind, some people find kids offensive even when they are behaving very well. So, for those people … too bad. You’re out in public and kids are part of the public!

      But, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that their kids are behaving appropriately in public.

    • bpepy

      No, letting a small child wander around a restaurant (with or without a fork) is not a good idea. It begins at home; our four children sat at the table to eat and when they were through eating, they could be excused. We rarely went out to eat (it’s expensive with 4 kids!) but when we did it was a special treat. If a child was crying or fussy, my husband or I would take them out until they calmed down. Also, we said grace before dinner, not so much for the religious aspect, but to make sure we were all seated and served before anyone started. We aimed for a calm and pleasant meal and we usually succeeded.

  • Irene

    My kids are all grown up now ( 21 and 23) but I do remember how hard it was to try to keep them quiet and behaving especially on long airplane flights and restaurant dinners where you have to wait forever to get served. The problem is that with my kids getting older I also developed this “I really don’t want to deal with other kids” syndrome. So I struggle with yes I was there myself and please just let me have a quiet meal feelings. I think that if your child is having an issue at the restaurant, the polite thing to do is to walk out, deal with it outside and come back in when resolved. I am much more tolerant of kids on the plane because that memory is still painfully clear. If I absolutely don’t want to deal with kids issues , I use the options available to me like first class flights and high end restaurants where most people are nice enough to exclude the little rascals.

  • mizmoose

    When I was two, my father started taking me to dinner once a week (at some family restaurant). My brother was an infant and this would give my mother a quieter night than with a toddler around as well. I was expected to behave, and I learned to do so.

    When my brother turned two, my mother decided that all four of us would go to dinner together. My brother picked up the hot dog on his plate and threw it at the table of priests next to us, getting the Monsignor right in the face.

    My brother did not eat in a restaurant again until he was about 6 and had learned how to behave in public.

    This was the 1960s. We were expected to behave or we could go sit in the car. We behaved.

  • Michelle B.

    I remember as a kid being taught table manners at home, such as asking “May I be excused” before leaving the table, no rambunctios behavior allowed, or inappropriate dinner conversation (like description of the bug guts discovered outside that day). As a kid I was taken to fancy and not so fancy restaurants. But I also remember a few occasions where mom or dad had to take me outside to give me a “talking to” for bad restaurant behavior and disturbing other diners.

    So even though parents may do the best job then can instilling manners in kids, kids are still going to occasionally act up. But it really is still the job of the parent to minimize triggers that will set kids off in the first place, and then remove them if they are disturbing other diners. Just like adults should leave the restaurant to have a cell phone conversation so they don’t disturb others as well.

  • Elizabeth Spiegel

    When they put sticky hands on your silk–the last straw. They should not be loose.

  • kwbts124

    My children are grown. I believe that all parents try to teach their children to respect others but what behavior is acceptable to me may not be acceptable to someone else.

    Lessons from parenting have transferred to bringing our dog out in public. We now travel with our 12lb havanese and we think this dog is the cutest angel on the planet and couldn’t possibly offend anyone….wink, wink.

    My husband & I believe that people who smile when they see a baby, dog, or cat are genuinely good at heart. People who scoff or purse their lips when seeing any of these are not worth getting in a fuss over and probably dislike most things anyway.

  • Mel65

    I have three children and as a military family we’ve traveled all over the world. It’s one thing for your kids to be around other people, it’s another to “inflict” your kids on other people. In the anecdote above… why on earth was your 2 YEAR OLD wandering around a restaurant with a fork UNSUPERVISED? A child at a nearby table thought it was hilarious to keep walking over to me and smacking my arm and laughing. The parents laughed and “awww”d and looked at me as if inviting me to enjoy the fun. I wasn’t. Children learn how to behave from parents who expect them to behave. I can honestly say that although I’ve had many compliments about my children’s’ behavior, I’ve never had a complaint. Parents need to use some common sense: don’t take overtired, overstimulated kids out and expect that they’ll be delightful; remove kids from an area when they show the first signs of having a meltdown; teach them at home that “sit down and behave” means just that and enforce it at home and in public. I love kids. I smile at babies and I offer to hold them for overwhelmed parents; but obnoxious, spoiled, unsupervised or uncontrolled kids make me want to slap………….their parents.

    • Jim Zakany

      I can see it happening. You see, he’s *right there* until, without warning, no he’s not.

  • jebaker

    with a fork????? C’mon that is a dangerous thing to do in case of a fall.

  • trskms

    Kids will not always be perfect, and most people understand that. If you (as the parent) are obviously trying and you seem to care about teaching your child, then most people will give you a reasonable amount of grace.

    On the other hand, if you allow your child to behave inappropriately and just seem to expect others to love him/her as much as you do and to repeatedly put up with poor behavior, it will seem as if you have no care for other people. At that point, people will be less filled with grace.

    A little one should never be allowed to roam freely around a restaurant. That is for outside. Other people are tired too, and they are not the parent to *your* child.

    However, as parents we do err at times. None of us is perfect. When you see you’ve erred, the best response is to quickly deal with your child and to offer an apology.

  • alsous

    My work required I travel with my three kids which are grown now. We ate out a fair amount and they knew not to misbehave or there would be a conversation outside. Some kids pick up that in a public place a parent is less likely to discipline because they don’t want to look bad so that child pushes to the limit what they can get away with. Usually it only takes one time to have to go outside to the car and use whatever method of discipline you use. I too always took books, crayons and other small items to fill the time before the food came. Now when I see kids, I do understand that kids are no more perfect then adults and will misbehave sometimes. I think that if the parents are not trying to make the situation right and are just letting everyone else watch their kids then it is not right and I will say something to the parent. In the same light I will try to thank the parents of well behaved kids and say how nice they have been.
    Chris, an apology to the man and removing the child back to your table should have been enough to let the matter drop. I am sure with all of the traveling your family does, your children behave much better then many adults.

    • deb

      alsous, my kids did misbehave…once, each. When she(name one, each had a “moment”) refused to settle, I took her outside, cracked a backside, hauled her in, cancelled the meal, left a big tip and we left. Cold, canned spagetti-os were dinner and bed no ice cream for that situation! However, one thing I do, and have done for many years, is, like YOU, to walk up to parents who have children who were/are well behaved and say words to this effect, “wow, I really am impressed. Kids can be so annoying in restaurants, but you all are so good. I appreciate how well you are behaving.” I nod to parent(s) and say, “I know how hard it can be, yer doing a great job!” I know how good a parent and a kid can feel after something like that, because it happened to me and mine many times. It’s called “catching them doing right.” What you and I do is worth GOLD to harried parents and uptight, nervous kids. There are waaayyy toooo many crabby ADULTS who see parents with small kids and start mouthing off, snidely and loudly, “Jeez, they can’t find a sitter? That/those brat(s) are gonna start screaming and wreck our dinner, gawd, what is their problem?” Nothing made me prouder when my little ones sat up even straighter, smiled and chatted softly with the server and their dad and I. Frankly, even tho I am now old and crabby, I find that there are more well behaved kids than outta control brats. Brats I deal with by saying, “Are you a good little boy/girl? You are? Well, in this place, good kids sit in their chairs, eat their meal, and be nice or you can get a ticket, you don’t want a ticket, do you?” Invariably, kids go back to their table and sit quietly!

  • Bill___A

    Most kids are pretty good and it is only a few that are very bad.
    Although it would take a lot of explanation to differentiate between the two, I have the impression that your kids would be under the “pretty good” category. I am sure if the man in the restaurant engaged them properly, they would have had a good experience.
    I have experienced quite a lot of the “good kids” and the “bad kids”. There are also tired kids and bored kids. When you think of it, a restaurant is a pretty boring place to take a kid. They can’t move about as much, not so much freedom, food generally comes slower, etc.
    The bad kids are generally the ones who do not have good parenting at home, and they are therefore unaccustomed to behaving themselves anywhere. This is compounded when the normally way too permissive parent makes an effort to control the kid in public when in fact, they have never successfully controlled the kid before.
    My advice is to bring up kids in a normal environment where they are encouraged to learn things, they have bedtimes, not allowed to watch TV or game whenever they want and have to adhere to some rules. Then, they are not a stranger to an environment with “rules” such as an airplane. Furthermore, they need to be coached before going on an outing as to what they can expect, and what the expectations are of them.
    Any kid that yells “mama” five times a minute is not suited to being in public.

  • N

    I think an apology was in order. Even though the gentleman carried on way too long, that was a reflection on him not your little one. I also think children of any age should not be allowed to wander about even the table without the parent right next to them. Also, a fork is not a good play toy. Still, live and learn.

  • Patrick

    You owed the man an apology, and no, you absolutely do NOT have the right to give him “a piece of your mind.” On the contrary, if I saw you in a restaurant launching into an indignant tirade at someone who’s annoyed that you let your child wander around, I’d be tempted to give you a piece of MY mind.

    You wrote, “We had to let our two-year-old toddle around the restaurant a little.”

    No, you did not. Especially with a fork in his hands. If the child needs to toddle, you take him outside or you get your meals to go. You absolutely do not have the right to allow your child to wander around and annoy other diners. Children can sometimes be an inconvenience, no question, but since you chose to have them, then you’re the only one who should be inconvenienced if you can help it. And being a parent is about interrupted meals.

    That said, the man in question overreacted, I don’t dispute that. He could have directed your attention to your child’s behavior and let it go at that. He didn’t need to bore everyone around him, especially after the problem had ended. But the fact that he made an ass of himself does not exonerate you, or change the fact that you owed him an apology.

  • DorothyP

    You can’t let a small child roam the range in a restaurant. Just not done. Maybe the guy over-reacted, but you’re in the wrong. Next time, one of the parents takes her outside, distracts her while the other one eats. Take turns. Or better yet, get carry-out. It won’t last forever.

    • Mama2tnt

      Not one poster has yet mentioned that servers walk around the restaurant with trays LOADED with hot foods and scalding liquids, easily spilled when a child crashes into the server’s legs. Wish more managers, etc. would say something to the kids who are running around – if they won’t listen to their parents, they probably WILL listen to a stranger who means business.

  • Cat

    Strange, from the beginning to the end. Starting with cooking children and ending with wanting to give a patron a piece of her mind- for letting her toddler wander in a restaurant? Sounds like she didn’t even know where her child was or what he was doing. Just the sort of parent that makes people cringe.

  • Caracal

    Argh, this is why so many people think modern parents have an attitude of entitlement: ‘we had to let our two-year-old toddle around the restaurant’ (no, your two-year-old needed entertainment and you weren’t very creative) ‘new parents’ (of a two year old?), ‘playfully waving a fork’ (aka small creature not known for co-ordination and judgement wielding a sharp object), ‘don’t let your kids make eye contact’ (bit of a strawman; that wasn’t exactly the complaint, was it?). Sure the guy yelled at you, but perhaps he had failed to make eye contact with you while you were blissfully unaware of what your child was doing.

    Some people are cranky, but if your child was behaving inappropriately, it’s considerate to apologise, even if the offence was unintentional.