Children in a Cruise Ship Dining Room
I would be hard pressed to find anyone complain about a well behaved, quiet, properly dressed child at any restaurant table. The issue comes up when the kids are NOT well behaved.
Let's take the first scenario. A honeymooning couple is having their first romantic dinner as husband and wife. The moon is slowly rising out the window, as the waiter pours out two glasses of Champagne. They gaze into each others eyes, dressed in their best clothes. They look over for a moment at the next table, and see a little girl in rapt admiration, quietly watching them. If anything, it makes the moment even more special. The couple in fact ends up talking to the little girl over dessert, telling them all about the wedding as the girl smiles and enjoys being treated as a grown-up.
Literally every adult I've talked with would be *thrilled* with this kind of child in the restaurant.
The issue comes up when a child is not properly aware of mature restaurant behavior. Upscale restaurants have rules of proper behavior which differ from Chuck E Cheese and McDonalds. There is a reason that there are family restaurants that accept kids - it is because in those environments, screaming and yelling are accepted. But in upscale restaurants, adults go to savor their food and wine in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. To have a 2 year old scream non-stop for 1 hour while the parents ignore him is unfair to the hundreds of diners who have to endure that noise.
Just about every cruise ship I know of *has* a casual restaurant. These are perfectly proper for kids and for casual eating. The formal dining rooms are a more formal atmosphere. People who eat there are expecting a higher level of behavior there. You can say that it's natural for a tired, cranky 2 year old to scream. But being a parent, I have to tell you that it's the parent's fault for driving the child into that tired, cranky state and then dragging him out to a public environment. If a child is tired, bring him to the cabin to sleep! It is the parent's duty to care for the child, that is the parent's primary duty. If the parents *also* wants to have a fine dining experience, then the parent needs to pass the child-care responsibility to another, including a babysitter. To traumatize the child because the parent wants the fancy food is simply not fair to the child or to the other diners.
What about the child that is incapable of sitting still and races around the dining room? Again, that is a clear sign that the parent has brought the child somewhere that the child is simply not mature enough for yet - because the parent is putting his or her own needs first. Children are what they are. Some children love fancy situations and are capable of sitting still. They go to the ballet and sit for 2 hours, perfectly at bliss with the situation. Other children are full of energy and want to run, jump and play, and eat burgers. That's simply what they enjoy! If they haven't yet learned to appreciate a fine restaurant with its rules, then don't force them to. There is time enough for them to learn those traits later on. To make a child miserable because the parent wants an experience is simply not fair. Again, if the parent really makes the decision that "my needs come first", then they should hire a sitter.
Formal restaurants are GREAT training experiences for children, to learn how to act like an adult. But the whole point is that they NEED to learn to act like an adult there. If they learn that it is OK to scream, yell, throw food or run around, then they are in fact learning an incredibly inappropriate lesson that will not serve them well at all on their road to maturity. And if the child is so young that they are incapable of learning any lesson at all, then they are just too young to be there. It would be like taking a child to watch Star Wars 3 and letting the kid scream throughout it so that other visitors can't hear the movie. You can't scold the infant for screaming through a movie they cannot even appreciate. You must scold the parent for shirking their responsibility to put the child's needs and responsibilities first.
That all being said, I know many children who have been raised very well by their parents, and who know how to act responsibly even at a young age. They understand that there is a time for running around and yelling - and a time for sitting quietly and acting mature. These children are a true joy to have at the dinner table because they understand table manners and they use them. It is certainly POSSIBLE for children even as young as 4 or 5 to be perfectly well behaved at a dinner table. It requires a parent who has taken the time to teach them the rules - and a parent who does not over-tire or over-starve the child preceding that meal. So whenever I see a well behaved child in that situation, I am sure to go over and talk with the parents, and give my compliments on their child's behavior. The parents and child both beam with pride. When I see a child acting up and the parents do not take immediate action to remove that child, I only wish there was a similar way to get the message across to THOSE parents.
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