Ask an expert: How to keep your kids respectful in public

Movie theaters, restaurants and airplanes are three places where you don’t want to be caught with a screaming child. Ellen Clayton, co-founder of the Etiquette School of Chicago, has some pointers for parents to help keep kids calm when they are out and about. Clayton is an etiquette expert certified by the American School of Protocol in Atlanta and the Etiquette Institute in St. Louis.

What is the best way to quiet a child in a public place?

I believe that you have to prepare ahead of time so that you don’t get to a point where you have to quiet them. That would mean keeping them busy with whatever the latest hand-held device parents use today. So I would tell somebody to be prepared. You have to set your own expectations of what you can expect your child to handle. You know what your child is capable of handling in public places. Teach them young and they have it for life.

What are some mistakes parents make when their children are upset?


[Parents] get upset. They start losing their cool. They need to stay calm and set an example for their kids. That just doesn’t happen when you are out. You want to set that example at home. You want to be calm at home and not allow things to escalate at your house because when you are in public they will think, ‘Well, this is normal; we can do this.’

What is the age to set those boundaries with your child?

I would say at a very young age when they can talk and understand that this [behavior] is not acceptable. My mother was a public school teacher at the time when I was raising my kids. She used that term in school and I remember using that phrase with my kids. It’s a big word for a 2-year-old, but they get it.

Why do you think children understand the meaning of “that’s not acceptable” even when they are young?


They understand by the parent's response - their tone. They can sense the feelings of the parents.


In your opinion, why do people get upset when someone else’s baby is crying or throwing a fit in public? What’s the root of that emotion?


First of all, when you hear a kid crying or having a meltdown, you feel sad. There is clearly something wrong. I think you are more annoyed with the parent unless they are taking responsibility and considering the people around them.

How does that change in a public place, like a movie theater, where things are a bit more intimate?

Well, I think then you aren’t looking at the child. You are looking at the parent like they aren’t very thoughtful and considerate of other people around them. At the Etiquette School of Chicago we teach to always pay attention to your surroundings to be considerate of the people around you and always prepare for what the situation might be.

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