Is dining out with your kids at your favorite restaurant enjoyable or a nightmare? If you’re spending more time keeping your child from flinging food around the table than eating yours, you’re doing it wrong. The key here is planning and consistency. We say those words a lot when it comes to parenting. But we say them because they work—as long as you’re willing to do your part. If you’re planning on dining out with your kids follow this 3 step process to keep the tantrums to a minimum and the food on the plate and not on the table.
Step 1: Before You Go the Restaurant
- Choose a family-friendly restaurant. Are there any hard and fast rules for what constitutes a family-friendly restaurant? Nope. You need to make a judgement call here. A good rule of thumb is if the restaurant publishes a kid’s menu. If they do, they are usually equipped to handle kids.
- Practice good manners and sitting at the table with the family. You need to get a jumpstart on your child’s behavior. Teaching them what is acceptable or not is a lot easier at home because your child is in a familiar environment.
- Dining out should not have any different rules for manners than at home. Letting your child know what is expected of them before you go sets up the rules and boundaries beforehand so there are no surprises. Yelling, carrying-on and flinging food at home is not permitted, and it’s no different when you go out to eat.
- Pick out everyone’s food before you go. Check out the menu online and decide before you go so you’re ready to order when you sit down. Typically most child-restaurant incidents start with what they’re going to eat. Remove this possibility by making a firm decision before you’re there and if necessary dealing with the outburst at home. It’s also important for all the adults to pick out what they’re eating before they arrive too. Showing that mom and dad can’t make a decision about what they’re eating will trigger the “well they do it, it’s not fair” response in your child.
Step 2: At the Restaurant
- Try to sit at a booth and have your child sit on the inside. If that’s not available, then choose a quiet corner table. The security of sitting directly next to a parent will help keep your child calmer as well as help you be able to deal with any incidents that may occur quickly.
- Timing is everything. If your schedule allows try to go during off-peak hours. Service can be faster and you may receive a bit more attention. The reduced wait time before the food arrives will lessen the chance of your child becoming anxious or bored.
- Pack some extra snacks, such as crackers or cereal to prevent meltdowns if there is a possibility of a delay in your food arriving.
- Ask the server to place your child’s order first.
- Bring something to occupy your child at the table such as crayons, stickers, small puzzles, etc. You will have to engage and interact with your child. There are many games you can play with the sweetener packets on the table: count, stack, sort, guess how many in your hand. I Spy and Tic, Tac, Toe are also tried and true. This is not the time to be passive by sticking a screen in front of them. Actively engaging with your child will keep them from acting out.
Step 3: Dealing with Issues
- If your child is out of control, be prepared to ask for a to-go bag.
- You must be prepared to leave at any time.
- Have a game plan between parents on how you will handle any incident.
- Depending on age, it’s important to make sure your child understands there will be a consistent consequence to unwanted behavior.
- One parent may have to leave the table with your child and sit outside or in the car until they are ready to come back to the table.
- This means one parent may have to forgo meal time with the rest of the family. It’s a sacrifice you will have to make. But it will pay off in the long run.
If your child is miserable in a restaurant then you and everyone around you will be also. I would strongly recommend taking kids to child friendly family eateries before upgrading to a more formal place. Practice make perfect. Take the time to teach your child good table manners at home and encourage appropriate behavior at dinner time. Dining out with your kids is a luxury and it should be enjoyable for everyone.
What techniques do you use when dining out with your kids to keep them on track?