When I became a parent, I was determined to keep elements of my pre-baby life for a few reasons:
- For my personal sanity and well-being
- To periodically expose my kids to bits of “adult life”, as opposed to living in “kid land” at all times and then being thrust into the real world one day in their teenage years
One of my absolute favorite things from my before baby days? Coffee shop visits.
I don’t know if it’s the years of Friends watching, or the site of my childhood BFF’s mom brewing herself a fresh pot of coffee before rushing off to an early morning nursing shift, but there’s something so delightfully adulty about coffee to me.
Clutching a cup of coffee gives me the sense that I’ve “got it together”, even in the midst of complete chaos. After giving birth and my life literally becoming complete chaos most of the time, I realized that having something that makes me feel like I’m doing okay is something that’s worth having. Often. In as large of quantity as possible without it affecting my breast milk.
My favorite way to consume coffee, when time and budget allows for it? Visiting a coffee shop, preferably a local, independently-owned one, if at all possible, but I’m certainly not above the Starbucks drive-thru (proud Gold Card member since 2012) or popping into a Dunkin’ Donuts for that heavenly (and budget-friendlier than The Bucks) vanilla iced coffee.
Coffee shops visits became a sanity saver while I was adjusting to new life as a mom. They showed me that part of my “old self” not only still existed, but could continue to exist is my moming life.
My daughter started to frequent coffee shops on a regular basis as an infant, and continued to be my sidekick into toddlerhood and threenager-ness.
Not only were those coffee shop visits good for my well-being, but they also became (and still are) wonderful opportunities for me to teach her about etiquette and give her some real-world practice with etiquette skills.
Here’s how our family uses coffee shop dates to help our kids develop etiquette skills:
1. Make it Special
We don’t go to coffee shops every day, or even every week. (We aren’t made of money, after all.) Going is a treat.
Because going is a special event, we can make the things we order a little special, too. I don’t take my kids to coffee shops to buy them a bowl of fruit or oatmeal that they could have at home for much cheaper.
Instead, we get something “treaty”, usually on the sweeter side that we don’t have in the house (like chocolate croissants, a coffee date favorite of my older daughter). This also reinforces the idea that sugary foods should be seen (and consumed) as occasional treats, rather than daily staples.
Moderation, moderation, moderation.
2. Let Your Child Practice Ordering
Depending on your child’s language development (remember, every child develops at her or his own pace and THAT’S 100% OKAY), you can let your child practice ordering for herself.
Our older daughter has started doing this recently and is handling it quite well so far.
To support her, as she can sometimes be shy with new people, we help her decide what she wants before she orders.
Listing a few options for her to choose from (usually no more than three) helps her make a decision quickly, and keeps her order in the “pastry” family (rather than the “massive slice of chocolate cake that she would totally down on her own if we let her” family).
Once she knows what she’s ordering, she tells the barista, giving her the chance to practice a social interaction with a new person in a safe environment.
This is a also really great chance to put an emphasis on being polite (throw in that ‘please’, encourage eye contact if possible, etc.).
Side note: it’s best to introduce self-ordering when the coffee shop isn’t busy—so probably not during the morning rush. You want to be able to walk your little one through it calmly so it doesn’t become a stressful situation, and trying to teach with a line behind you and a slammed barista isn’t ideal for anyone. Choose your moment wisely.
3. No screens during coffee dates
This goes for the adults and the kids.
We are not a screen-free household, but we try to practice the “there’s a time and a place for everything” approach throughout our parenting, and this is one such case.
When we sit down for a coffee date, the screens are put away.
4. No toys during coffee dates
And by toys, I mean things like figurines, stuffed animals, an abacus, a toy truck, etc. Anything that doesn’t have an adult equivalent that’s coffee shop appropriate.
Let me explain what I mean by this.
In adult coffee shop etiquette, it’s perfectly acceptable to sit and read a novel, do a crossword puzzle, or write in a notebook. These are all quiet activities that frequently take place in coffee shops.
The child equivalent to reading a novel is reading a children’s book, so the girls can read their books on coffee dates.
The child equivalent to doing a crossword puzzle might be working in a coloring book, so coloring books are an option during coffee dates.
The child version of writing in a notebook could be drawing or handwriting practice in a notebook of their own, so notebooks are allowed for the girls when we go on coffee dates.
There’s no adult equivalent to “playing with a Barbie doll” that’s coffee shop appropriate, so that wouldn’t be an option.
We try to mirror the socially-accepted etiquette at every opportunity for them, and having appropriate activities is one way to do this.
5. Practice Quiet Voices
This is a big one. We are trying to raise humans who can navigate the world in a respectful, appropriate way, and understanding when to speak a certain way is one such skill to have.
We (the adults) not only use quiet voices to speak during coffee dates, but we also quietly talk about the quiet voices that we’re using with our kids and explain why; modeling the behavior and giving them reasoning beyond “because we said so”.
Our reasoning conversations usually include phrases like:
- “Wow, it’s so nice and quiet in here right now.”
- “I love how everyone is so quiet in coffee shops.”
- “When everyone is using quiet voices, I can talk to you without having to scream. It’s so nice!”
- “When it’s quiet, I can really concentrate on my reading. I love it!”
- “I love that we get to use loud voices when we are outside and quiet voices when we are inside.”
We keep it simple and age-appropriate, and switch up our phrasing on every trip to try to reinforce the idea that the reason everyone is generally quiet in coffee shops is because it’s socially-appropriate and respectful of others to do so.
6. Always Order To-Go (Just in Case)
When things don’t go according to plan, don’t try to be a hero.
Meltdowns happen. Life happens. Sometimes coffee dates will be cut short. That’s okay.
To make your life (as a parent) easier, always order your coffee to-go. That was, if a meltdown does occur, you can quickly and calmly stand up, gather your sweet little rat ;), and head out.
The important things to do after a meltdown are:
- Have a conversation with your child about why the coffee date was cut short (e.g. “We had to leave our coffee date because you threw your blueberry scone at the barista.”)
- Provide clear instructions for future coffee dates (e.g. “Next time we go out for coffee, let’s sit and eat your blueberry scone instead of throwing it at the barista.”)
- Go back for another coffee date. Kids need a chance to practice etiquette in a real-world setting. With practice comes missteps. Your little one won’t have a chance to try to correct the behavior unless you give him the chance to. Don’t let one meltdown stop you from trying again.