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I want to start off by saying that I'm not referring to "family friendly" restaurants or other venues where a loud, informal atmosphere might be expected.

I'm specifically asking about dining establishments where, under normal circumstances, a conversation is typically quiet, and there's generally no interaction between patrons seated at different tables.

There have been times where I am at a quiet restaurant with my wife, enjoying a nice meal and some conversation, and a child at an adjacent table starts creating a disturbance.

The disturbance is most typically screaming, top-of-the-lungs crying.

I have a personal aversion to loud noises. They make me uncomfortable. My wife has hearing difficulties that only become an issue when there are multiple sources of noise conflicting. Loud background noises make it difficult for her to pick out individual words.

When children start screaming, our ability to have a conversation stops, and our ability to enjoy our time together declines.

While I have plenty of sympathy for parents dealing with an unhappy child, I would prefer for them to consider the impact on fellow diners, and the context of the venue.

Is there a way to approach this that is likely to result in a positive outcome (e.g. one of the parents takes the child out of the immediate dining area until the crying fit is resolved)?

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    You should add if you complained to the server or management about the disturbance. It really is their place to satisfy you as a customer. Otherwise, go somewhere else. – user3169 Aug 15 '17 at 1:41
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    @DmitryGrigoryev There's a general noise threshold for me that is hard to quantify. My best answer is it depends on the setting (as I tried to indicate in the question), but generally it is when the noise interferes with my ability to have a conversation. However, I believe the other situations you describe would almost certainly merit different interpersonal approaches, so shouldn't be part of this question. – Beofett Aug 15 '17 at 13:49
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    @Trilarion I'd prefer the goodwill option, but what prompted this question is how frequently the "goodwill" of parents is replaced by "the idea that other people might be disturbed by my children's behavior is of no concern to me, because it would inconvenience me to take any action". Goodwill implies some level of compromise. I'm willing to compromise by understanding that even the best behaved kid isn't going to get it right 100% of the time, so I'm happy to give parents an opportunity to fix it when the kids get too loud. Failing to attempt to fix it is being unwilling to compromise. – Beofett Sep 22 '17 at 13:56
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    Note: Please use comments for suggesting improvements or for asking for clarifications. Answers and discussions will be removed without notice. – A J May 2 '18 at 4:30
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The way I've dealt with this situation is to ask my server if I could be moved to a different table.

It's a little loud over here could we move to another table? Perhaps outside?

Approaching the parents of the screaming child isn't likely to go well for anyone, they're already stressed and preoccupied, just don't.

Asking to move to a new table solves the problem on your end, and alerts the restaurant management that there's a problem.

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    What if there are no open tables in other parts of the restaurant, or it is a small one? – user3169 Aug 15 '17 at 1:44
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    @user3169 Then the server will tell you that it isn't an option, but you've still acknowledged that there is a problem with the restaurant staff. – apaul Aug 15 '17 at 1:57
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    Look for other people clearly bothered by the screaming children, and get all of them to ask for the manager. If enough people bring it up to management, they will do something about it. – Kik Aug 16 '17 at 14:05
109

(Preface: Some people have taken offense at how pro-parent this answer is. There's good reason for this. In any meaningful interpersonal situation, we have to pay attention to the mindset of both parties in order to find the best solution. Everyone knows the mindset of the person who has to hear the child screaming. We've all been there. Those without children have not been in the position of the parent, so it's the parents mindset that is most valuable from the perspective of an IPS answer.)

Speaking as a parent, you don't have to tell us. We already know. In the end, there are only two major differences between your situation and ours:

  • We're much closer to the source of the noise, so it's louder for us.
  • We know it's our job to fix it. If we could, we would.

Going out to eat as a parent is a balance. On one hand, you don't want to disturb other clients. We know you don't want to hear our kid scream. Believe me, we don't want to hear them scream either. On the other hand, we want to be able to go out to eat as a family. We can't go to Chuck-e-Cheeses every day. It's a balance. We can't 100% capitulate to your desire for a quiet environment, and we can't 100% assume that we are the most important people in the world and do what we want, regardless of your ears.

Apaul34208 has the right idea. Talk with the restaurant management. They have a fiscal interest in keeping their clientele happy. They also employ people for their skill at resolving these sorts of issues. They can look at the eyes of the parents and figure out really quickly whether the parents need to be told to control their child, or if the best approach is to get you a seat further away from the commotion so that you and your wife can pay attention to each other.

If you do feel the need to take matters into your own hands, please watch our actions first. If we're trying to stop the screaming or if we're clearly stressed out by the screaming as well, there's really nothing you can tell us that would make the situation better. Only "alert" us to the issue if you're confident that we really didn't notice that our kid's screaming was a problem. I'm not sure how that could happen, but perhaps if the parents were drinking heavily and the kids were playing in a different room in the establishment...

And do fully expect us to respond with, "You're not a parent, you wouldn't understand." While it is rude and stereotyping, it's also rather true. It's really hard to understand what kids do to your life until you have them. Is it fair? Probably not. However, as a general rule of any interpersonal relationship, if someone is already close to their breaking point, pestering them will only make it worse, and the response should always expect in such a situation is a snippy response which firmly announces that they don't care about what you're thinking. Pushing someone who doesn't have the bandwidth to deal with being pushed always leads to conflict, parent or non parent.

If you watch the family long enough, you'll eventually see another parent couple leave the restaurant, walk past them and say, "We understand. We've been there," before walking away. Believe me, it's not fun to be in that position (or in the lavatory of a plane with a screaming infant on the way back from a canceled wedding. That's my horror story).

That being said, if you have any skill with kids yourself, and can go over and get them to stop screaming without issuing blunt force trauma or mental scarring, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Obviously, make sure the parents are okay with you interacting with their kid, but I'm not sure what sort of parent in their right mind would prefer a screaming kid over a happy one. If I can't figure out how to control my child, and someone else walks over and does it, I look at them with awe, not hate.


In the case where the parents don't care.

When interacting with parents that don't care, you quickly get trapped between the desire to help them learn and the desire to make them leave. I would still rely on talking to management. They still have a fiscal interest in keeping you happy. However, if I see that the family simply doesn't care, I use much stronger tone and words with management. As a parent, I want the benefit of the doubt, but I think I relinquish that benefit once I stop caring about others. I would expect some results from management. They may not be in a position to eject the family, but they should start treating you as a dissatisfied client. They might comp your drinks. Or they might only give you a "we're sorry," but they should do something. If enough people complain about the same family, they may act on it (such as in Curt's example in the comments, where enough people in a movie theater complained and caused management to eject the family). Certainly, don't suffer in silence. Let management try to make you happy.

If you do get in such a situation, focus on what they choose to do to try to keep their clients happy. They are in a bind between two paying customers themselves, and that's a delicate balance. The difference is that they're getting paid to maintain the balance -- you're the paying customer. Focusing on what people are doing to help you always improves the mood over focusing on those who are disturbing you. And then, afterwards, decide if you feel like patronizing that establishment again or not. It's your money. See if they earned it or not.


The Conflict Approach

In the comments, several people have had the attitude of "they just shouldn't be in my restaurant. They should be elsewhere." Now I can't dismiss this attitude, as much as I might like, but I can explain why you can't find an answer on Interpersonal Skills that goes down this route.

If you feel they just shouldn't have come to your restaurant with the kid (stay home, get a babysitter, go elsewhere, etc.) then we really have a collision of wants. They want something out of the night (they did go out to dinner). You want something out of the night (you did go out to dinner). If you believe they need to surrender their wants to support your wants, you are seeking a path of confrontation.

Are you in the right for wanting to seek confrontation? Maybe. That's a very complicated question. However, we don't need to answer that question to look at just the side effects of any confrontation, justified or not. In a confrontation, the results depend greatly on who is involved -- both you and the parents. If you are Liam Neeson, and you walk past my table, glare at my kid, and walk off mumbling something about a "special set of skills," I think I'll take my hint, ask for a check, and find somewhere else to be that night. If you don't look like Liam Neeson, I may not catch your reference. If I am a big bruiser, you probably don't want to tell me what to do. If I'm a shrimp and you're a big bruiser, maybe it's in your heart to push me around. Whatever happens, it's going to be hard to predict from afar. That's the nature of conflict. Always has been, always will be.

Given that the confrontational options are so specific to the individuals, there's no reasonable way you can get advice on a site like this on how to cope with your particular confrontation. The non-confrontational approach of going to management, who you are paying to put your wants before theirs, is reliable and can be recommended. You are welcome to come to your own conclusions involving conflict, but its just not feasible to help you come to that conclusion in this format.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Aug 15 '17 at 23:01
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This isn't going to be a popular answer, but I have used this tactic before with success...

Use non-verbal cues to let the parents know that you've noticed their kid's misbehavior and that you're not happy about it. Make direct eye contact. If they're the kind of parents that are already feeling self-conscious about it, this might be the motivation they need to finally leave. If they're oblivious, this might call attention to the fact that they need to do something about their kid. If nothing else works, ask the waitstaff or the manager to intervene. Just make sure you have the moral high ground when doing this.

I have 3 boys of my own. As a parent, I know first hand that it's a gamble taking your kids to a venue like that. I've had to excuse myself from the table to take my son out to the car to calm him down before, and I expect other parents to give me the same courtesy when their kid is being difficult. There was an entire 5-year period of my life where I didn't see a single new movie that came out in the theater, so you can imagine how I feel when I see idiot parents bringing their kids to an R-rated movie.

Point is, we live in a world that has become, in my opinion, increasingly narcissistic to where nobody has common courtesy anymore. I don't think it's my job to go around teaching people lessons about manners, but I also don't think it's too presumptuous to call people out for being rude.

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    I don't see how non-verbal cues could help. If the parents do care for their kids to look well-behaved, they have certainly already noticed. If they don't, or can't do anything about it, I doubt your cues can change that. – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 15 '17 at 13:50
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    @DmitryGrigoryev It depends on the parents. If the parents are aware that the kid is being disruptive, and are in the process of weighing whether it is worth ruining their evening over it, they're going to be taking the opinions of others into account. A non-verbal cue may be subtle enough to get the message across without forcing them onto the defensive, and you don't want them on the defensive. However, if the parent's don't care, then your argument is correct -- parents who don't care wont care. – Cort Ammon Aug 15 '17 at 17:04
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    I have literally never had this work. The people who feel shame will avoid this situation to begin with. The ones who don't, won't care. – Kat Aug 15 '17 at 19:49
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    I don't think you've explained how it is "narcissistic" to expect non-parents to occasionally tolerate the noise of other peoples' kids that the parents have to tolerate every day in a variety of much more stressful occasions than a few minutes at a restaurant. You're making assumptions that the parents don't care and are rude because of behaviour outside their (full) control. To expect to never be annoyed by the natural sounds of children in restaurants seems just as narcissistic to me. – 8DX Aug 17 '17 at 13:36
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    @8DX The parents are the ones who are narcissistic because they are the ones that chose to have kids and thus chose to deal with it, the non-parents just ended up in a situation where they are having their time ruined by someone else's choice. I never have an issue if I'm at say McDonalds and there's a screaming kid. Its not pleasant, but i know I'm at McDonald's. But if I'm spending $350 for a meal for my wife and I, it pisses me off to have to listen to someone else's brat my entire meal. – Andy Sep 21 '17 at 21:44
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I would alert the server if you have issue & see what can be done. That is really the only recourse. Personally, I have children, so I actually carry small toys in my purse that I often offer to parents in this situation. You would be shocked how often a kind stranger approaching is so welcomed and the child very often finds the toy enough distraction to be appeased. I think the surprise value goes a long way on interrupting the meltdown & making them forget what was so upsetting.

That said, as someone who has dined out a lot, I am always so surprised how often people complain of this. I have rarely ever seen such a thing happen (I've seen it, just rarely) and more often have seen adults that were obnoxious, rude to others at their own table, talking loudly or too crass, etc. I also then think of those with disabilities, or special needs. Are they too not permitted into "fine dining" as they might be upsetting if they get upset, or just talk too loudly, or can't master all of the proper socially expected etiquette? I mean really, is there any place you want to go that says that those that might draw some attention to themselves won't be permitted? I know a very fine elderly lady who LOVES a beautiful meal in a nice place, but also has partial facial paralysis & struggles with eating neatly. Should she stay home? Some people think so. I have to question the humanity in such thinking.

So yes, I agree, parents should try to keep children entertained & happy. Other people should try to speak low enough to keep it at their own table, and others just should do their best in whatever ability they have, and so on. But realistically, once you go out to a public location, you need to anticipate it will never cater 100% to your liking. It can't. It is public. If you absolutely must have things your way, then you can get take out & find a gorgeous park, or have a small lovely catered in meal (that is often cheaper than people suspect). When you are out, no matter how "nice" the place you are going, unless it's a private event, you have to just learn to anticipate that other patrons may not be precisely to your preferred choosing. If it's over the top, you can seek a servers help, but other than that,any direct "confrontation" to suggest what another person "should" do is unlikely to ever be taken well. When I offer a toy to parents of an upset tot, I offer empathy, not suggestions.

4

This depends extremely on the social and cultural circumstances you find yourself in.

I've travelled all over the world with the exception of Australia, and found behaviour towards and treatment of children differs by culture.

On the one end, you have extremely child-friendly cultures where basically children can do no wrong and everyone is culturally expected to accept whatever they are doing.

On the other hand, you have cultures where children are expected to behave themselves in public. This comes in two flavors: Child is responsible (many Asian countries) or parent is responsible (e.g. Russia). If a child misbehaves here, someone will walk over and matter-of-factly tell the parents that they shouldn't take their child outside the house if it can't behave.

Most western countries are somewhere in the middle, trying to strike a balance. From the context of your question, I assume that you are somewhere there, maybe the USA.

That means that the cultural expectation is that a balance is to be maintained. A certain (undefined) level of noise is to be tolerated, but if it gets too much, responsibility lies with the parents to get things under control.

As others advised already: Your first action should be to check if the parents are trying to control the child and get it to calm down. If so, give them the opportunity to succeed, it might take some minutes. If they fail to control the child, but continue trying, ask for a different table or move to a different table by yourself. This might feel uncomfortable - my fiance likes to switch tables for whatever reasons, I generally prefer to sit and that's it, so I can relate - but it will improve your situation. If the parents don't try, or give up and stop trying, confront them personally or have the restaurant staff confront them by pointing out that you have a problem with the situation. It is a parents responsibility to manage their children and the least they should be doing is trying.

When confronting someone, in this or any other situation, I found BIFF to be a useful acronym - Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm. Something like "Excuse me, but we are unable to enjoy our conversation with the very loud noise your child is making. Please manage your kid, you are in a public space."

Again, this assumes they are not already doing so.

-1

Absolutely speak to the server and/or management. About the only place some of the other responders and I agree is that speaking to the parent, in that moment, is not likely to yield a satisfactory response.

I have to say, this is like a Twilight Zone moment for me. I really want to understand the POV of @Cort Ammon and, to a lesser extent, @8DX and some others. But I can't and I feel like some of the respondents here and I must be from alternate universes.

I'm a parent of two small children. We have taken our children to plenty of kid-friendly places. We also have tempted the gods by bringing them to very nice restaurants. We have brought them to places in between. At none of these places would I allow my children to scream and disturb others. None.

If my children aren't screaming, but talking too loudly, I remind them of restaurant manners and ask them to speak quietly. If they are screaming, there isn't a test period while I wait to see how long the screaming will last, or a judgment about whether or not they really "earned" a big-girl day or will have positive memories of it. They. Are. Out. The "test period" is the period during which I am carrying said child out the door.

I have had meals where I was by myself, threw money on the table and hustled both kids out for one child's bad behavior. I have had meals with a friend or spouse where one of us has walked a kid around the block or stood next to or sat inside a car while a child screamed inside it. I always felt that message was really important: Kid, you're having a tough time. That happens to everyone and I feel for you! But you have to get control over it and when possible, I want to stress that your tough time will not be inflicted on everyone else in this restaurant or even this family. Even for my child who is too young to really understand the long-winded explanation I just laid out, she can understand scream = sit outside in car and don't get the attention you want.

Other respondents are correct that any person or group of people has a right to dine at any restaurant. But here's where I just can't understand some of the other parents who have posted here. All of our rights, to anything, are curtailed when our exercise of those rights infringes on others' rights to that same activity. So for the life of me, I cannot understand why parents believe they have the "right" to inflict their screaming children on others, particularly at a fine restaurant, movie, play, or any other private establishment.

To those who ask "Well, we want a night out, too! Why should we have to stay home because we have children? This is what children do!" My answer is: Hire a sitter. Because you CHOSE to have children and recognize that this choice carries many, many inconveniences. And yes, of course children do these things and that's why their parents have to make compromises -- not everyone else.

Clearly, this bridge between the two sides is so far that we can't even see the other side. That means to me that speaking to management is the only option, since they have the ultimate right to decide who does or does not visit their establishment.

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    I would like to upvote this answer. I really would. As you might have guessed from my question and some of my comments, I 100% agree with you on your parenting strategy. But unfortunately, that wasn't the question, nor are parenting strategies on topic for this site (but I do encourage you to check out parenting.se!). The only parts of this answer relevant to the question are "speak to the server and/or management". – Beofett Dec 26 '18 at 13:54
  • I appreciate what you're saying here. I guess I was trying to explain why I thought that speaking to the server or management was the only option -- because different parents might have a hard time even beginning to understand your POV. Apologies if my explanation, by way of using my own difficulty in understanding a different POV, was off topic. – Mergie Jan 6 at 17:52

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