Last week, I had lunch at the food court in the mall and witnessed a refreshing display of good child behavior. It truly was a site you don’t see every day. I was sitting at a table eating lunch, a few feet away from Chick-fil-A, and engaging in one of my favorite pastimes…people-watching. I noticed a well-dressed man, probably somewhere in his mid-thirties, holding the hand of a boy that I guessed to be between five and seven. The man, who I assume was the boy’s father, bent down to the child and spoke to him before it was time for them to order. When the woman behind the counter asked what they wanted, the man gently nudged the boy and the boy said, in a clear voice, exactly what he wanted to eat. When the boy finished his order, his face shone with pride and he smiled at his father.
What was so amazing about the exchange was the father’s proactiveness in preparing the boy to respond to the question when asked. Usually, when children are encouraged by their parents to give the host their order, something completely unintelligible comes out, followed by a clipped discussion between the parent and child while they figure out what the child wants. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in line and witnessed a parent-child conversation that went something like this.
“May I have your order please?” the woman behind the counter said.
“Suzy, tell the nice lady what you want,” mom said.
Suzy wiggled, crossed her legs, and did a pee-pee go away dance. “I wanna pink pony.”
“Tell the lady what you want, Suzy.”
“I wanna pink…I want Daddy,” Suzy said, and stamped her foot.
“Daddy isn’t here. Do you want a happy meal?”
“You want a milkshake with your happy meal?”
“I want Daddy.”
“I told you, Daddy isn’t here. How about chicken nuggets?”
“Sweetie, they don’t have pizza at McDonalds. Do you want a happy meal or chicken nuggets?
Suzy cried and wiped snot dripping from her nose. “Pizza!”
Customers in line behind them shifted to the next line. Eye-rolling and flame-throwing stares torched the mother and her resistant daughter while their conversation continued during peak restaurant hours.
Does this scenario sound remotely familiar to you all? I’ve seen some variation of this exchange many times. But the truth is there’s a fine line that a parent walks between teaching a child and taking charge when necessary. On the one hand, we know that our children need to learn to speak for themselves, but at the same time, the world is impatient while we struggle through the tedious process of teaching our children to communicate properly. I don’t know how the man at the mall managed to teach his son to respond so well, but I must say I was impressed.