We were at a restaurant the other night, and a family with young children came in. We watched as they waited for their table, and the kids were getting more and more restless and difficult to handle. The mom was trying her best but they kids just weren’t happy. I was reminded of my belief that there are really only three reasons that kids typically misbehave: fatigue, hunger, or boredom.
In this case, the kids were probably all three: tired, hungry, and bored. It was seven at night. This is pretty late for dinner. It is also pretty late for a toddler to be out in stimulation and noise, getting close to bedtime. Plus, they had nothing to do as they were expected to sit on a bench for 30 minutes waiting for a table.
Kids have a really hard time dealing with emotions, rules, and expectations when they are tired. This goes for toddlers to teens. Unfortunately, we have an over-scheduled society and sleep is often part of the fallout for kids. When kids get up early for school, work hard all day, have extracurricular activities and do homework, by early evening they are tired and need some down time to unwind. This can’t always be granted, but as a rule kids should have a consistent bedtime that includes relaxation.
For my family especially, we pay attention to hunger cues because all three of us get shaky and grumpy when we don’t eat frequently enough. However, it is a good rule of thumb to always have snacks with you for your kids to eat. When kids are little, we make sure to have food with us for them; as they age, it becomes less of a priority. Even if it is only a granola bar, it can make a big difference in behavior and attitude when a hungry tummy gets fed.
No matter the age, waiting is hard! Asking children to sit still, be quiet, and occupy themselves is a tall order. In the case at the restaurant, eventually the mom stood up and said, “This restaurant has to have toys or something!” It is a really simple solution to have small games, workbooks, markers, etc. in your bag to offer to kids when they have to wait. My son loves writing in a little notebook; I used to ask my parents to write down difficult words and see if I could read them correctly. You shouldn’t expect restaurants and other businesses to entertain your kids.
Almost every time my son argues, refuses to cooperate, disobeys, and so on, I can stop and consider whether one of the three reasons applies. Without fail, I recognize that he is in fact tired, hungry, or bored. Once I address those issues, he returns to my delightful and happy little boy. It is easy to become frustrated or punish a child for disobeying or acting out, but it is our job to first figure out if there is a simple solution to what is causing the behavior in the first place and make necessary changes. After all, we want to set our children up to succeed, and this is an easy and consistent way to do that!