Dining with Kids
Restaurants provide a host of opportunities for parents to feel under the public’s magnifying lens, because it can be challenging to keep your kids in their seats, with their napkins on their laps, using their utensils appropriately, speaking in an inside voice, and behaving calmly and politely. What can parents do to help their kids have a positive dining experience?
- Begin teaching dining etiquette when dining at home . . . when your children are small.
- Early dining out experiences should occur at kid-friendly, casual dining restaurants. In these environments, when your kids learn restaurant dining by trial and error, the errors they make will not create such a disturbance for you or the other diners near you. As your kids learn proper dining etiquette, you can gradually move to more formal dining experiences.
- Set expectations before going to the restaurant. Make sure your kids understand what behavior you expect from them. Choose calming activities leading up to your family dining experience. Calm kids are better behaved kids. Specify consequences for good and bad behavior. A consequence for good behavior may be the opportunity to have dessert, and a consequence for bad behavior may be going home mid-meal and subsequently being denied a bedtime story.
- Kids often perceive dining in restaurants as a long and tedious experience. Fix this by taking with you a bag of silent toys and games to hold your kids’ interests. Puzzle books, coloring books with crayons, stuffed animals, dolls, and other such toys and games are excellent for keeping kids silently occupied in a restaurant. Further, you can keep your kids occupied with discussions that involve them. How was their day at school? What went well? What did not? Did anything noteworthy happen? Then, tell them a kid-friendly version of your day so that your kids understand the reciprocal nature of conversations.
- When your kids are first learning the dining out experience, you may need to order for your kids. Later, you will merely help your kids choose their menu selections. Ultimately, your kids will be able to make their own choices wisely.
- For some kids, having an appetizer brought quickly to the table helps keep them occupied while they are waiting for their entrée. However, for kids with smaller appetites, appetizers can be a problem as the kids become full on appetizers and are ready to go home before the entrée is even served.
- If your kids decide to behave contrary to your expectations, remind them of your expectations. (Note: if you have non-family diners at your table, you should discreetly take the errant child to the restroom and have a conversation with him there. Redirecting your kids in front of others is generally inadvisable.) If your kids decide to have tantrums or draw attention to themselves loudly, it’s best to take them out of the restaurant to discuss proper behavior. If they refuse to comply with your expectations, take them home. A missed family meal is unfortunate, but your food can be boxed and taken home. Meanwhile, you kids will have had a learning opportunity.
By following these simple steps, you can set the stage for a positive, fun dining experience for the whole family! Bon appétit!
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