Restaurant Outburst Reversed

Restaurant Outburst Reversed

"You can't go back in until you settle down!"

Who hasn't had to remove their child from a store or restaurant at one time or another? Most of us know what that is like.

I happened upon such a scene one December night at the downtown Austin holiday stroll apparently just after a mom had removed her 5-year-old son from a restaurant. I didn't realize they had previously been inside. All I saw was a mom trying to keep her cool while her child struggled to get away.

It looked like she was trying to contain him near the wall of the restaurant so he wouldn't run away. When he wouldn't settle down, she picked him up and carried him kicking and screaming further down the block away from the entrance.

The kicking and screaming stopped when she put him down. I could see that he was no longer trying to run away from her, but sat sullenly at her feet, looking down, arms crossed, occasionally kicking the building in anger. To the mom, it looked like they had reached an impasse. To me, it looked the child was adjusting to her boundary.

Knowing it would help her to see what I was seeing, I walked up and offered my assistance. Pretty bold, right? It felt like it, but I couldn't help myself.

Luckily this mom was willing to accept. I said something like, "Looks like a power struggle. I might be able to help." She nodded and said, "He wants what he wants and throws tantrums when he can't have it." I nodded and remarked on that being normal for a young child.

She smiled, and I bent down to talk to her son with the intention of helping him meet his need for power, which was still pretty high. He remained staunchly facing the other way, which reminded me he was already working on it—he was meeting his need for power by holding his ground instead of by trying to run away. This was a child moving toward compliance.

Not understanding the events leading up to the moment, I just started with SAY WHAT YOU SEE® (SWYS)—describing what I was seeing without judgment, questions, teaching, or fixing. A brief conversation ensued, mostly with me talking to the back of the child's head, the child responding quietly within his mom's earshot, and Mom reporting what he said to me. It turned out to be a great way to rebuild the connection between the two.

The conversation went something like this:

Me (SWYS): "Sounds like you want something."


Child: Nods and responds quietly like kids do when they know what they want is not OK.


Mom: "He wants to go inside."


Me (SWYS): "You want to go inside. You don't want to be outside, and here you are. Must be something really interesting inside."


Child: Shakes head no and remains quiet.


Me (SWYS): "No! That's not it. I'm just wrong!"


Child: Nods and remains quiet.


Mom: "He wants to go back in. We were inside at dinner, he was banging his silverware on the table making lots of noise, and he wants to go back in."


Me (SWYS): "Oh, so you were inside and wanted to make noise. Hmm."


Me (CAN DO): "Hmm. The restaurant is not for making noise. You can make noise out here with your feet."


Child: No response.


Me (SWYS): "You don't want to make noise out here. You want to go back inside."


Child: Nods.


Me (CAN DO): "So Mom, what can he do to get to go back inside?"


Mom: "He would need to be quiet."


Me (SWYS—talking to Mom as child's advocate): "Looks like those feet are pretty quiet. The hands, too. He's being pretty quiet now."


Mom: "He is. He is being really quiet."


Child: Looks up.


Me (SWYS—still talking to Mom): "Looks like he might be ready to go back in."


Child: Stands up and takes Mom's hand.


Me (CAN DO): "Mom, what can he do if he needs to make noise inside again?"


Mom (CAN DO—with a kind, understanding voice): "He can come back out here."


Me (SWYS): "Sounds like a plan."

They walked away together to return to the restaurant and finish their holiday dinner. I walked away with a warm spot for them in my heart.

It only took about 2 minutes of understanding using my simple coaching model to turn this tense situation around. I had to be bold to take the first step, but not as bold as this Mom had to be to accept my help.

We all want to make a difference. Have you offered help to friends or strangers? How did it turn out for you?

HINT: For adults and children, it will only feel like help to them if you are helping them get something they want.


  1. David Weiner |


  2. Basia Breslin |


  3. I Love it! Go Sandy! Help is often accepted when offered with love and without attachment.

  4. Julia Kurskaya |

    This post is absolutely great! Thank you for taking your time to remember all the details of the conversation. I’ve read it several times – I really enjoyed it! It feels great to have a warm spot in the heart for somebody. And you are that generous to have it even for a stranger, Sandy!

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