Crashing the Party: Knowing When It’s OK to Bring the Kids
Look for the Clues
Etiquette rules are harder to define than ever before—it can be tough enough to know how to dress for an event, let alone figure out whether bringing kids along is appropriate. “In the last decade, parents began taking kids everywhere with them, from restaurants to movie theaters—even on upscale vacations,” says Stacy DeBroff, parenting expert, author, and frequent contributor on NBC’s Today show.
However, just because you can take your kids along doesn’t mean you should. Dragging a young child to an event that requires sitting still or being quiet sets him up to fail, and sets you up for embarrassment and unfriendly stares from those around you.
Part of being a kid is having fun, testing limits, and acting out. Most people don’t expect children to behave perfectly in social settings; however, as a parent you can follow some easy clues to determine when it’s OK to bring your child along and when it’s best to hire a sitter and leave a little one at home.
Weddings and Parties
Weddings and parties usually include an invitation, which is your key to determining if it is an adults-only or child-friendly event. Pay attention to how the envelope is addressed. If it says “and family” or names your children specifically, you can be sure they are invited. If it is addressed to just you and your spouse, assume it is an adults-only function and either hire a sitter or politely decline the invite.
Time of day is another clue as to whether your child should tag along. Evening parties are not for those with an early bedtime. A child wreaking havoc on the ice sculpture or a toddler melting down on the dance floor is, at best, awkward entertainment—and at worst, a major and unappreciated disruption.
Tori Smith of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is familiar with how unexpected party guests can put a damper on the night. Smith and three other couples hosted a swanky New Year’s Eve party and were shocked when guests brought their 10-year-old child and his friends along for the festivities.
“We tried to overlook it at first, and then things got ugly,” says Smith. “They were meddling with the elevator alarm, which was going off every few minutes. We finally drew the line when the boys started throwing slices of cheesecake out the top floor windows—which landed on many of the guests’ windshields below.”
As for weddings, if the invitation includes your children, you should take extra care to ensure that your kids do not distract from the emphasis on the bride and groom. Weddings can be overwhelming and exhausting for little ones. Consider arranging for a sitter at the reception, or know that you may have to make an exit before the band belts out the last song of the night.
If your kids have been left off the wedding invitation altogether, try not to be offended—and respect the wishes of the bride and groom.
“Weddings are a huge investment of time and money, and the bride and groom have a right to keep it an adults-only affair,” says Colleen Rickenbacher, an etiquette speaker and consultant, and author of Be On Your Best Cultural Behavior. “Never call to ask if your child can be included—if you don’t want to go because you can’t bring your kids, you’ll have to decline the invitation.”
You don’t have to skip dining out just because you require a high chair at the table, but do pay close attention to the cost of the restaurant, time of day you choose to dine, and tipping habits.
Dine out earlier in the evening when restaurants are less crowded and your child isn’t nearing bedtime. Rickenbacher advises using child-friendly restaurants as a low-stress way to introduce kids to good dining out behavior, such as staying seated in a chair, using utensils, and talking in an inside voice. Also, come prepared—bring some snacks so if the food doesn’t come out right away, your child doesn’t get cranky. “[And] bring along a restaurant survival kit with crayons and other fun things to do so your kids aren’t bored,” adds DeBroff.
In a restaurant geared for kids, games and activities are often provided as part of the experience—but don’t assume all bets are off. Don’t let kids run wild in the restaurant, and don’t take the wait staff for granted.
“If your table is a real disaster area when you get up, it’s nice to leave a little extra for a tip,” says Rickenbacher. “Even in a place where tipping isn’t customary, slip them a dollar or two as a ‘thank you’ if your kids leave behind a real mess.”
Another strategy to make eating out less stressful is to practice at home. Turn your dining room into a pretend restaurant and help your kids learn the behavior you expect from them in public. Make it fun by allowing kids to dress up, help plan the menu, or drink milk from fancy glasses.
“While we might be able to live with our kids being noisy at the dinner table at home, there has to be an ability to set very different expectations in public,” says DeBroff.
There are many instances when bringing your child to the movie theater is perfectly appropriate and even encouraged—for instance G-rated or PG-rated movies geared for kids.
At these showings, which are most often during the day, minor disruptions are usually excused. Yet you should still be considerate of the other parents and kids around you. If your child starts crying loudly or misbehaves repeatedly, take him outside into the hallway until he calms down.
How about catching a matinee with your young baby in tow? Rickenbacher gives this the green light. “Matinees are perfect for taking your baby—if he wakes up and fusses, just take him outside and then come back in when he’s settled,” she says.
Some movie theaters have special showings once a week just for moms with young children. If your local theater doesn’t offer a similar program, why not rally some fellow parents and consider asking the manager if a moms’ movie can be added to the theater’s weekly schedule? That way, you can enjoy a movie guilt-free, with fussing allowed!
Children are welcome at many concerts, plays, and other live performances, but Rickenbacher advises to consider the length of the event, venue, and subject matter. Patrons paying top dollar to enjoy a live show won’t appreciate being disturbed by unsettled babies and children.
“A child’s attention span is short—and can be a lot shorter if the performance doesn’t hold their interest,” says Rickenbacher. “If it is a serious event, like a ballet, opera, or symphony, it could be very difficult for even an elementary school-aged child to sit through two to three hours of something they don’t really understand.”
Even if the event is aimed at the child audience, consider any elements that could be frightening, such as darkness or loud noises. Discuss these things with your child beforehand to prepare him for what he’ll see on stage—you’ll minimize anxiety and maximize his enjoyment.
“Even children as young as 2 can sit through a play they are familiar with through books or TV,” says Rickenbacher. “I highly recommend that your first performances are shorter and have an intermission. Start small and build up.”
Funerals and Worship Services
Many houses of worship have nurseries and kid-friendly classes (such as Sunday school) so parents may attend services without bringing babies and children along. If you have access to these options, take advantage of them. You’ll be able to pay attention at the service, and your child will have the chance to play and interact with other kids.
At the age of 2 or 3, Rickenbacher says some kids are ready to graduate from the nursery into the pew: “Tell your kids that it is a special place—a quiet place. Make a big deal out of going to the ‘big church,’ and if they can’t yet handle it, take them back to the nursery and try again another day.”
If you don’t have access to a nursery, sit near the back so you can make a quick getaway and have closer access to the restroom or baby changing area. Additionally, some places offer “cry rooms” equipped with speakers so parents can take fussy babies out of the worship area yet still hear the service.
As for wakes and funerals—the rules, or lack thereof, get tricky. “You have to consider the family traditions and the individual child,” says Rickenbacher. “If the family is adamant about wanting even the youngest family members there, bring your child to the wake for a short time and skip the funeral.”
Rickenbacher advises considering your child’s age, personality, and wishes. Babies younger than two probably won’t remember the experience, but older children may be haunted by it later. If your child doesn’t want to go, don’t force it.
Navigating the social world once children enter the picture is no easy task, but if you let common sense rule, you’re halfway there. And fine tuning your social meter does have advantages—your good manners will show that you are a respectful, thoughtful person, and your ventures beyond your front door will be more enjoyable for the whole family.
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