Family Matters: Four against one

Diana Boggia

On a recent road trip we stopped at a restaurant for some warm soup and hot coffee.

A mom sat at a long table with her four children who appeared to be age 6 and under. She was attentive to all as she ate her lunch.  

As problems arose with each child, she addressed them as she saw them.

I overheard her ask two of her older children to stop crawling around and get up off the floor. They were giggling, trying to grab each other’s arms in between everyone else’s dangling legs.

She explained that floors are dirty and full of germs. She counted to three several times to quiet loud voices and stop some back-and-forth teasing.

 Before counting each time, she called out a warning: “I’m counting to three!” Every time she reached “three!” the children stopped what they were doing.  It didn’t seem as if the One-Two-Three, Magic! worked, because within minutes everyone returned to whatever they were doing.

She told one child that he had reached his third and last warning, so he lost his privilege of sleeping in her room that night.

One little girl hit her brother, so mom immediately asked, “Why did you do that?” Unsatisfied with her daughter’s explanation, mom said that this last mistake would cost her her daily reward.  I wondered what the daily reward would have been.

This mom seemed to be in control and didn’t miss a beat. She corrected each child immediately, the minute he got out of line. She didn’t raise her voice, except to correct someone by calling across the table, or under it for the two on the floor.  She didn’t lose her temper, hit, grab, or spank anyone, which I see often enough in shopping malls and restaurants. What I did see was a mother with her hands full.


This mom appeared frustrated, outnumbered and possibly overwhelmed because every child was testing limits. I had no idea if she was out shopping with her children in the adjoining strip mall or traveling to visit friends or family. Whatever her story, I felt sorry that she was enjoying neither her lunch nor her children. Although she gave great effort to continually managing behaviors as they occurred, nothing really changed.

Chances are you’ve sat near a family like this in a restaurant, or perhaps have had your own child embarrass you in public.  When I was pregnant with my daughter, a stranger said “Good luck with your third! With two kids and two hands, you can grab each one. With three, you are outnumbered!”

Parents don’t have to feel outnumbered or overwhelmed. Simple planning, rules which are enforced and constant recognition of good efforts make family outings easier.

Tips for change

Some ideas might seem simplistic or obvious, but they weren’t for this mom.

• Before heading out, pair up older siblings to help with younger ones.

• Always travel with a surprise bag, filled with small toys and interesting items.

• Designate seating.

• Don’t ask anyone to get off the floor or explain why they should. Get up and go over to give a clear directive, and touch as you tell.

• Don’t ask a child why she hit. There is never a good enough reason to warrant hitting.

• Remove to remediate; remove a child from the table and ask what you can do to help him sit properly. He may simply ask to have his seat changed.

• Rather than continuously counting and taking away privileges, offer privileges and praise every time you see appropriate behavior. “Who wants to have a sleepover party in mommy’s bedroom tonight?”

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting coach who lives in Stark County, Ohio. She is author of “Parenting with a Purpose.” Send your child-rearing questions to or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find parenting resources at her website,