by Patrick Mitchell

 This post I’d like to share my perspective on taking small children to coffee shops and other public places to show them the world while you simultaneously work or read the newspaper.  If you have a toddler, or if you’ve ever had a toddler, you’ll understand how glad I was to discover that coffee shops can be great places to take small children.

I carried my 14-month-old son on my shoulders to a coffee shop in our neighborhood.  I took him inside to get warm, and I bought a cup of coffee.  I realized, as I sipped that coffee and watched my son explore things, that being there was a breakthrough: There I was, doing an adult activity (reading something!), in public and showing my son some new territory at the same time.  Until now, I figured such places were pretty much off limits to parents of children under age two.  After all, toddlers cover a lot of ground, point at everything, want you to lift them up constantly, and grin at you from across the room daring you to chase them.  So, I never seriously considered doing all that in a coffee shop.

Coffee Shop Tots
Coffee Shop Tots

Here’s my perspective on the toddlers and coffee shops picture: First and foremost you’ve got to supervise them.  Luckily, dads and moms have built-in alarms that go off when their smallest children sneak out of sight or appear to be able to sneak out of sight.  Between these alarms, though, are moments of relaxation, and if you play your cards right, you can lengthen those moments, giving yourself a chance to do something adult-oriented while your small child does something toddler-oriented.  One way to keep that alarm from going off is to place yourself between your child and the doorway.  This way you can watch them head-on as they explore the place, and you can keep track of them in your peripheral vision.  This also provides you with a bit of freedom to sip your coffee and glance at your newspaper. 

One key thing to remember is this:  To a toddler, looking around and exploring is a worthwhile, engaging activity, so you don’t have to provide constant entertainment while at the coffee shop.  Be realistic, and you may be pleasantly surprised.  Set a realistic goal, such as having a single cup of coffee, reading two or three short articles, or checking your phone messages, and then departing.  (Carrying your child on your shoulders is optional!)

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This article originally appeared in The Down To Earth Dad™ monthly newsletter for parents, schools, and programs.

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