I have recently come to this realization after just taking our boys out to a nice restaurant and as we prepare to try our luck at taking them to a wedding. Taking children into public is a lot like a hostage negotiation. There are many stages that the the parent will go through when attempting to deal with their own little terrorist in public, trying to maintain the peace and make sure everyone makes it home safe. But in most hostage negotiations, it never goes as planned and someone ends up getting hurt or going to jail.
Stage 1: The Appeal
This is the first stage because it is the most harmless and always works for those "good parents" who have little angels that listen and obey everything their parents tell them. When the child begins to act out, the parent makes an appeal to the child to really look at their behavior and make the right choice. Much like the negotiator will appeal to the criminal to re-evaluate his decision to commit the crime. "Come on, now think about this. Do you really want to do this? Think about what grandma would think. What would Jesus do?" And for lesser crimes and wonderful children, this strategy works. But not for my boys.
Stage 2: The Negotiation
When the appeal process breaks down and your child non-verbally answers you, "Hell yes, we are doing this. Its go time!" Then the negotiations open. This is the strategy when you have to give something to get something. Much like a negotiator will ask for a hostage in exchange for food. It usually follows the "if, then" pattern. "Ok, if you sit still at dinner, then you can go home a play Mario Kart. But if you get up, then no Mario." "If you will stop screaming, then there is ice cream in your future." "If you quit hitting your brother, then you can hit daddy all you want when we get home." This will work part of the time depending on how sweet the deal is. They must give very little and receive a lot. They wont trade in 'not screaming' for a sticker at home. You had better have that sticker in hand, it better be Spider man shooting webs and not just hanging on a wall, and there had better be a sticker book included with 50 other activity pages including but not limited to: tic tac toe, word search, mazes, and find whats wrong in this picture; and it better not have a lot of coloring pages because you only brought 8 crayons and he prefers markers anyway, but if it is crayons you'd better have at least 64, at least. Because if he want to color something brown, he'd better have the option of maroon and deep brick because sometimes you just need to switch it up. See, gain a little, give a lot.
Stage 3: The Threat
Sometimes when the negotiation fails and the criminal is not going to play give and take, negotiations descend into the threat. You can see that the perp is being unreasonable and nothing is getting through to them despite you best efforts at being a rational, Dr. Dobson-following parent. The next option is to threaten without offering them a reward to stop their crime. Hostage Negotiators will threaten like, "Alright, you've got 5 minutes to come out with your hands up or we are coming in after you." This is also the time when Moms will sick the Dads on the kids, much like the police. "If you don't come out, Swat is coming in." In these situations, I have my wife refer to me as "Swat." I have the helmet, riot gear and its not only a name but its what I do with my hand to their butts. "Just wait till your father gets home and hears what you did at Kroger." The threat also sounds like, "If you keep mouthing off to me here at the restaurant, you'll be in Time Out so long people will think you work here." "If you keep yelling at each other in the car, I hope you have good shoes on because its a long walk home from here." The threat usually works if the criminal knows you are not bluffing and will follow up with your threat. But if you are bluffing, or he has got nothing to lose, you move to the next stage.
Stage 4: The Plead
When all threats have fallen by the wayside and no amount of promised torture is affecting them, one of the last options is the plead. Its when all hope is gone and they are about to win. They have been screaming for last hour, the waiter has brought you 20 bags of crackers, 15 different crayons, 10 sets of silverware, the old couple in the corner has judged and sentenced you to being the worst parent they have ever seen, the manager is debating about asking you to leave or call the cops for disturbing the peace, and Children's Services is dialed into your phone because you are about to turn yourself in for a little piece and quiet. You then turn to the bandit and plead, "please, please, why are you doing this to me? I have been good to you. I have given you food and a place to sleep at night. I've tried my best to raise you right. So why do you hate me? I will do anything to make you stop. I am begging you. I would get down on my knees but the floor is covered with cracker crumbs, silverware, and crayons and I am already paying more in the tip then the actual meal because of the mess you have made. So please stop, PLEASE!" Of course this usually does not work. At least it doesn't with my boys because they want to see if in one day they can make daddy grow grey hair in front of them or cause a spontaneous stress ulcer, which ever comes first. If all else fails, you enter the last stage.
Stage 5: The Give Up
One side has to give up at one time or another. In a hostage situation, both sides never both win. There is no win-win. Like the Highlander says, "There can be only one." It is in this stage when the hands go up in defeat, the parent says that final word, "FINE!" and either the meal, wedding, grocery trip, concert, bah mitzvah, playdate, playground, or church is over and you leave. Or my favorite, the parent shuts down, closing his ears to all outside noise, stares forward and goes to his happy place. That happy place when the world was young, when it was just you and your wife, where you had no kids and if there were unruly kids you could freely judge those parents for being bad parents and the only noise you could hear was silence.
So if you are a cop, be brave out there. Its a cruel, crime infested world where danger lurks around every corner, ready to take advantage of the innocent. So be safe and everyone will make it home alive. (Translation: So if you are a parent, stay strong out there. Its an unfair, children infested world where your rugrats are with you all day everyday, ready to make your life miserable when you didn't do anything wrong. So be patient, they legally have to move out by age 18.)
Hoping all your hostage negotiations end in stage 1,
The Joyful and Tired Dad