Monday, 30 June 2014

Children In Pubs: A Guide For Parents, And Other Users

Children In Pubs
A Guide For Parents, And Other Users

This has been a while in the writing, in fact you could say that it's taken me just over eleven years as that's how long ago we found out that we were having our first child. However the ideas first began to take form when I read this post regarding dogs in pubs by Leigh Linley in September last year, and there are some similarities as you will see, and brought into focus more recently by this post by the Innspectre where he offers a poll at the conclusion asking whether people would like to ban children from their local given the option.
As a parent, and I feel it necessary to make this disclosure now if you hadn't already surmised it from the paragraph above, I feel that it is important that children are allowed into pubs for reasons I will go into further as I progress. I am not however advocating that pubs are places that children should spending a large proportion of their time in, far from it. The pub plays a part in community life, but the key word here is part unless you are a publican, then obviously it is your livelihood, and should be regarded as an aspect of that.

I also don't wish to come over as pompous or pretentious, I am merely drawing on my experiences and in the hope that it helps. I'm not the ideal parent by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I pretend to be, but I am merely passing on things that I have learnt, sometimes through trial and error but mostly through using common sense. Nor is it an instruction manual. This is a far cry from my usual posts, in fact it's about as far removed as you could get, and may not be relevant to those who usually read my blog, but maybe one day it will be.

1. Babies

When Sarah, my wife, and I decided to have children we didn't do so because of the expectations of others or because we thought it might be a good idea, but rather because we felt we were ready and that we wanted to start a family. This was a conscious choice on our part, nobody made us do it, and by doing so we realised that our lives would change. We could not carry on as we had always done. We knew this and we adjusted our lifestyle accordingly.

Our daughter was born in January 2006, a full 18 months before the smoking ban in public places came into force in July 2007. Some pubs and restaurants had already anticipated this and set aside, sometimes as just a token gesture, smoke free areas or banned it voluntarily altogether. Being regular pub users prior to my wife's pregnancy we found that we scaled down our visits quite a bit, but not altogether an this was as much out of prudence, babies cost money, as out of the application of common sense. When we did go we went earlier in the evening when there were less people about, so less chance of smoke, and more chance of getting a seat. Our local pub had a separate area of the restaurant that was smoke free, so we found that we ate in there more often with beer accompanying the meal (for myself that is) rather than the purpose of the visit. In this way we still saw the same faces at the pub but, and this is just as important, they saw us. They would ask about the pregnancy, when the baby was due, what were we having (which we didn't know), all the usual questions that would be asked in any other social situation, which is exactly what this was.

As the pregnancy was shared with them, it was really no surprise when we arrived one day with a baby in a car seat. We still ate in the restaurant on occasion, and people came to look at the baby and at the same time respected our privacy and we theirs. If we were out for the day and we came to a pub that we chose to have lunch in we didn't just take the baby in, barging through the doors, pushchair, bottles, wipes, nappies, change of clothes and all, but I, and invariably it was me, would go in and have a quick look around, a quick pre-visit reconnaissance mission. Going up to the bar and asking if children are allowed in, and then stating the age of your child or children is always advisable. Firstly you can get a good idea of the clientele. Are there children in there already? Are they eating? What was the atmosphere like, because if people look openly hostile to you going in on your own then do you really want to bring your child in there? Secondly you could get the lay of the land. Is there music, and if so how loud? Was there adequate spacing between the tables to accommodate a pushchair or, given the all-clear, would it have to be folded outside prior to entering the premises, and was there somewhere out of the way that it could be stored? Ideally you would have had a look at the menu and whether you wanted to drink the beer there prior to doing all of this as suddenly deciding you don't want to eat there when you're settled means negotiating baby and pram back past those you may have inconvenienced getting there in the first place. This isn't going to win you any friends and should you wish to go back there again soon you might find that they are not so benevolent.

Similarly, in more clement climes the pub garden, if there is one is a boon to parents with small children, particularly if it is large and open and can be accessed without going through the main body of the pub itself. I would recommend finding a spot away from everyone else if possible, a shady corner is ideal, especially as you may want to keep your child away from the sun, and if your child cries, and children do, then it won't impact others as much. Try also to pick table away from smokers, but don't forget that you have chosen to be outside and they are perfectly within their right and the law to smoke. Should it become a problem then move, go inside or leave, however if it isn't directly interfering with you or your child then let them be.

I have already mentioned this but if your child cries then it is your responsibility to deal with it. If it is as simple as giving the baby attention then do so. Going for a short stroll, rocking the pram gently, or engaging the baby directly by pulling faces, playing peek-a-boo or rattling a favourite toy can work wonders, but please don't ignore it. Having seen people continuing a conversation with a screaming baby beside them, seemingly oblivious to it, as an onlooker it grates with you and can lead to confrontation and that is not an ideal situation for you or baby. Showing that you are dealing with it will usually be treated with knowing and sometimes sympathetic glances.

Other things to consider are feeding and changing. Remember to be respectful of others and not arrogant and overt. Of course you may breast feed, it is perfectly natural however there are some that may be uncomfortable with it but a discreetly placed shawl or moving to a different area and finding a quite spot will help save others blushes, and you might want to have a few ready prepared bottles handy just in case. When changing a baby, and while more places have changing facilities it is still not ideal, retreating to the car, if you have one and came in it, or a visit to the toilets is always the preferred option. It is also an aspect to consider on that initial fact-finding mission I mentioned earlier. Remember that the pub is accommodating you and if it won't suit your purpose for the length of you visit then you might want to consider somewhere else.

2. Infants and younger children

As your child grows you find that the general paraphernalia that used to be omnipresent is no longer required. You travel lighter, unburdened by the trappings of early parenthood and experience a degree of freedom that you may have forgotten you had.

With this new found freedom comes a new set of responsibilities and challenges for a parent visiting a pub. The children are more inquisitive, more active and are easily bored, so this needs to be factored into any visit.

Bringing your children to the pub to eat, eating out occasionally, or even regularly sitting at the dining table for meals is the easiest way to get you child to behave correctly in a social environment. Children will copy adults readily and teaching you children their responsibilities to themselves and others is important. If your children know that it is unacceptable to keep getting up and down from the table, that running around a pub or restaurant is inconsiderate and dangerous and that singing, shouting or talking loudly is unnecessary and rude then they will refrain from doing so. I am under no illusions that this is an ideal situation. Despite us telling them my children have, with the exception of running around, at one time or another been guilty of all of these things, but sitting them back down and engaging with them, whether it be with a rebuke or explanation, has worked every time. Ignoring it, from my observation, never works. No surprise there.

Engaging with your children is also important to prevent boredom, so playing word games such as eye-spy or Boticelli will help pass the time when waiting for food or service, or even just sitting round having a drink. Remember to keep the volume down to around normal conversation levels, you don't need to whisper, that's frankly ridiculous as it's a pub not a library, but just be aware of the proximity of others. Colouring books, puzzle books and reading books may well be available in the pub, but it is advisable to take some with you just in case. Toys can be option, however things can get lost or broken leading to unintentional upset and commotion. Mobile phones, iPads and hand-held games will also keep your child occupied but these are very insular and don't really teach your children how to behave socially in a pub, and although with applications such as Untappd or immediate social media interactions such as Twitter see more of us reaching for our phones to review, relate or compare, try and keep this to a minimum. Far better at encouraging interaction are board games, and many pubs have these out for use or kept behind the bar, although if you are eating then they are best left to afterwards.

Pub with good size gardens provide good spaces for more active children, and arriving early will often give you time for them for them to run around if so inclined without disturbing others. It should be stressed to them that they will need to come and sit down if other people arrive so that they are prepared for this. Pubs with playground areas are welcome but be sure to keep you children visible at all times as you would anywhere else as they are not pub-run babysitting facilities but amenities to entice families to visit. A walk to or from a pub can also provide exercise, particularly as children get older, and means they will be more willing to sit down with you when they arrive.

3. Older children

One of the primary reasons for visiting a pub is to consume alcohol. There's no getting away from it, and I suspect that you might be wondering what took me so long before bringing it up, but the reason I've left it until now is that I wanted to address the subject of children and alcohol consumption from two angles.

The first is from the parents responsibility when it comes to their personal intake. I'm not about to preach and this isn't an anti-alcohol polemic, but it is important that you have a responsibility to yourself and, more importantly, your children when it comes to your drinking. If you ensure that you are able to undertake your parental role and keep within your ability to cope should an emergency arise then you shouldn't go far wrong. Being a parent isn't something you can switch on and off at will as the mood takes you, and if you limit your visit to the pub to an hour at most, three if you're eating, then they will accept it as part of normal recreational activity. They will then see it as a place to relax, much as you do, but not a place to get drunk. visiting earlier in the day, or in the early evening as I mentioned above will also mean that they are not exposed to drunken behaviour.

The second aspect, and a far more contentious one is introducing your children to drink. It is important to know the law with regard to this especially as you could end up in serious trouble should you fall foul of it, particularly as ignorance is no defence.

The law states*

It is against the law:
-To sell alcohol to anyone under 18 anywhere
-For an adult to buy or to attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone aged under 18. (Retailers can reserve the right to refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they are accompanied by a child and think the alcohol is being bought for the child).
-For someone under 18 to buy alcohol, to attempt to buy alcohol or be sold alcohol.
-For someone under 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, except where the child is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink, but not buy, beer, wine and cider with a table meal.
-For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under 18 fro consumption on licensed premises, except as above.
-To give alcohol to children if they are under 5 years old.

It is not illegal:
-For someone 18 or over to buy a child over 16 beer, wine or cider if they are eating a table meal together in licensed premises.
-For a child aged 5 to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises.

*source:, link here.

Of course, I'm sure we can all recall instances of ourselves or others buying alcohol when they were under age, and I'm not going to get into that debate here. It is however my view, and I have to stress that this is my view from my experience, that a sip of alcohol, and in my case that is always beer, and never strong beer, includes the child in a social occasion where alcohol is present. They only have one sip, a second is refused, and this is regulated by holding the glass so that the child does not consume too much.

I recently took part in a 'brew off' with Pilsner Urquell at the White Horse in Parsons Green, the results of which will be known on 15th July, however one of the speakers was a taste psychologist whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. He spoke to us about the taste of beer, and particularly about the bitterness of beer, and how for many of us overcoming that bitterness and teaching our taste buds to enjoy beer is almost a rite of passage. The reason we do this, apparently, is that we see older members of the community socialising, enjoying beer and having a good time and that in order for us to be part of that, to experience it for ourselves we overcome that initial aversion and learn to enjoy it.

For this reason I feel that introducing your children to alcohol in a responsible way is important, but don't force it on them. Give them the option of a taste should they so wish but do not be persistent in the face of a refusal. It after all their choice as well as yours.

4. Other users

As pub users ourselves, parents or not we have a responsibility if children have been permitted. Remember that it is the licensee's right who they allow onto the premises, and we have to respect that no matter what our own opinions may be. It's not clever to swear around children, in fact it may be argued that it's not clever to swear at all, however we must accept this does go on in pubs but exposing children to foul language is not our choice.

On the flip side I think we have a responsibility to tell those in charge if  we feel a child is being allowed to behave in a manner that is disturbing others or endangering themselves. It is up to the licensee to police their pub as they see fit, and unfortunately or fortunately depending on you point of view we do have a choice, and that is to either stay and put up with it or go elsewhere. I would caution against interfering directly unless it is affecting you physically, and even then it is best to exercise restraint.

In conclusion

I think I've achieved what I set out to do, which is convey may experiences and offer some guidelines with regard to taking children to the pub and being in a pub with children. I may well have gone into more detail than is necessary in some areas and missed out others but I have drawn on what I have learnt and observed.

Having children is a responsibility, but it is also a blessing and a privilege insofar as you have the ability to bring someone into your world and to introduce them to things that are important to you, and tell them the reasons why. Following what I've written provides no guarantees that you children will appreciate what you do, none of us are exact clones of our parents, nor does it mean that they won't abuse alcohol in the future, but it does mean that the should see the pub as a part of society and community,  see alcohol drunk responsibly and in moderation by people enjoying themselves, and actually enjoy the experience of being there and interacting in a social capacity for themselves.

Further reading;
You may be interested in this article from the Morning Advertiser in December 2012 by licensing lawyer Piers Warne regarding children in pubs.
And this debate appeared on the BBC news website regarding aggressive parents in pubs.
Finally this article by Katharine Whitehorn that appeared in the Observer last month (May 2014) while quite narrow has an interesting observation by G K Chesterton at the end.