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I was having lunch with my 3 y.o. daughter today, and some threatening-looking types start having lunch there also (one looked like he was on drugs). This is solely based on their appearance; they never bothered us in any way, and for all I know, they could be lovely people once you get to know them. Nevertheless, I felt a strong desire to leave, without drawing attention to us in any way (i.e. I didn't want to make it seem like I was uncomfortable with them around my daughter).

However, I know that if I would have attempted to leave prematurely, my daughter would likely have protested, which would have drawn attention to us (she was enjoying her meal, and was completely oblivious to any of my perceived threats).

Question: How can I explain to my toddler about these situations? How can I ensure that we can quickly and quietly leave in these situations?

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Did they actually behave in a threatening manner towards anyone, or was it just their look which made you nervous? –  Péter Török Feb 9 '12 at 8:14
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An important part of the context here is where you were. Was it a children-friendly restaurant, a bar? –  deworde Feb 9 '12 at 11:06
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5 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

If I was in that situation, and my judgement was that it was time to leave, given all that has been said above about respecting diversity, not judging a book by its cover, etc, I would want to do it in a way that was:

  1. quiet and unobtrusive
  2. didn't scare the kids.

In this situation I would probably make up some plausible but convincing story such as:

"ooh, I though I just saw an icecream truck going by, lets go see, quick get in the car, I think it went that way."

or simply:

"who wants sweets!"

You can explain afterwards if you feel the need.

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+ 1 for actually addressing the question. –  Beofett Feb 10 '12 at 18:26
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If you haven't drilled your child in this situation, then don't be discrete. Seriously, just say, somewhat loudly, "Well, if you won't listen to me then we're just going to have to leave!"

Then carry the kid out of the restaurant, kicking and screaming if needed. You can keep up a running commentary as you go, like, "Well, when I say no, I mean no" or whatever. You've created a reason why you are leaving--as a punishment--and that is sufficient to cover your real motives. If these guys are dangerous, violent, or planning on robbing the place, but haven't actually started the robbing and violence yet, they'll wait until the screaming kid is out of their hair, then rob the place. If they aren't willing to let you leave with a screaming kid (preferably covered in ice cream), you were never getting out of there anyway.

When you've driven a reasonable distance away, pull over and explain what just happened. If this happens a lot, come up with a better plan for the future. When you come up with that plan, make sure you test it several times on false alarms to make sure your child reacts the way you want them to, because the last thing you want them to do is to ask you, loudly "Are those the scary guys we're running from?"

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Argh, this is a tricky one. On the one hand, you want to protect your child. On the other, if they are looking for trouble, you'd provide them with the perfect excuse. Also, your concerns turned out to be unfounded, so all you'd have done is cause more distrust of strangers, which can be dangerous in and of itself (your child not being willing to ask for help when lost, etc.)

Firstly, you now have an example to talk with your child about.

"Did you notice those three men in the restaurant? Well, I was worried they might be angry, so I wanted to leave. Now, if I do feel like that, I need you to come with me quietly so that we don't annoy them, because angry people sometimes do bad things."

Obviously, if the men actually DO anything that worries you, you just get up, take your child and say "We need to leave, come on." Explain once you're out of the place. Bottom line, if they are threatening in any way, then you're going to be uncomfortable anyway. Better to be uncomfortable somewhere else.

However, the real issue was that you were in a place where 3 seedy-looking blokes came in, and their presence dominated the place.

There are places to eat out that specifically cater towards kids. Children's Theatres, Parks, Nurseries all either provide places to eat, or are very near places to eat. The more young families that are around, the less likely that people who will cause trouble will come in, and the more likely it is that the management will ask them to leave if they do anything that might be construed as worrying.

The best way of staying out of trouble is to avoid troublespots. Admittedly, this is far, far easier said than done, but it's probably the best solution.

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Actually, we were at a McDonalds at the time. I have to admit, if we were at a better quality restaurant we're unlikely to encounter such characters. –  Douglas S. Stones Feb 9 '12 at 21:44
    
+1 for actually addressing the question. –  Beofett Feb 10 '12 at 18:25
    
@DouglasS.Stones One thing you could do at a McDonalds is ask for a takeaway bag as "you're running late for something". Then head for the park to finish your McNuggets. –  deworde Feb 14 '12 at 15:05
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You need to be careful not to teach your kids profiling. I understand your fear, as that is what we learned as children, however, our kids don't have to learn that. Depending on how old your child is you can talk about strangers in a safe home environment (they talk about this in most schools as well).
I am assuming you were in a safe resturaunt, and not that this is a guerentee for anything, it should make you feel more comfortable.
I think it is a horrible message when you let other people (in this case off putting people) control your life and your enjoyment. I hear you that these people made you uncomfortable, but they obviously didn't make your daughter uncomfortable so there is no reason to leave, especially as your daughter was happy. You could have sped her along if you really wanted to leave. As well, even if your daughter made a fuss about leaving, this is normal and those people would not have assumed it was because of them unless you told your daughter that that was the reason you were leaving.

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+1 for children making a fuss being normal - very true –  Rory Alsop Feb 9 '12 at 14:30
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-1 I'm sorry, but you aren't actually answering the question. While I agree with everything you've said, the question is "how can I get my toddler to exit discreetly" in whatever the OP considers a threatening situation. For reference, please see What should we advise when one disagrees with the premise of a question? –  Beofett Feb 10 '12 at 18:24
    
I don't know, she did put "As well, even if your daughter made a fuss about leaving, this is normal and those people would not have assumed it was because of them unless you told your daughter that that was the reason you were leaving." –  deworde Feb 10 '12 at 18:47
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At risk of sounding contrary, it sounds like there may be an element of looking at your perception to see if it is appropriate.

In general I would always err on the side of "people are good" - this is far more true than not, no matter what they look like. So teaching your child to avoid someone who looks a bit rough can give quite a negative outlook on diversity, acceptance and understanding. It's better to be able to discuss why some people like purple hair, some have tattoos, etc. and when your child is older you may need to have the conversation around why some people swear all the time.

That said, you can minimise issues - you wouldn't take your child to a strip bar, for example - the entertainment and conversation would not be appropriate. You can do the same with restaurants etc - some will be very child friendly, some may be the kind of place you'd expect a fight. Plan ahead.

tl;dr - don't concentrate on unfounded fears based on appearance - minimise risks by planning where to eat etc.

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I agree with this in principle, but if you were in a motorway cafe, and 3 guys came in looking for trouble and/or on drugs, you might want to err on the side of caution. In the given case, nothing happened, but if a fight had broken out, you wouldn't want your child in there. –  deworde Feb 9 '12 at 19:19
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-1 I'm sorry, but you aren't actually answering the question. While I agree with everything you've said, the question is "how can I get my toddler to exit discreetly" in whatever the OP considers a threatening situation. For reference, please see What should we advise when one disagrees with the premise of a question? –  Beofett Feb 10 '12 at 18:23
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Didn't answer the question. –  Ready To Learn Feb 12 '12 at 2:31
    
@deworde, now, that is a whole different league from the original situation described in the OP. Yes, there are pedophiles around, and slave merchants, and child prostitution... And AFAIK the people involved in these usually mustn't be kept in the same prison cell with "regular" criminals, without the risk of getting seriously injured. –  Péter Török Feb 14 '12 at 11:22
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Have hunted down online info on child safety, and as there seems to be a wide disconnect between media info and statistical info, I have posted this question on Skeptics: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/8033/619 –  Rory Alsop Feb 14 '12 at 13:45
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