We understand how nerve-wracking it can be for some families to try venturing out and going to a restaurant for the with their young children, especially for the first time. Here are a few tips to help make the experience easier:
- Practice at home – Starting at home is a great way for children to understand what the expectations when at the dinner table. Be straightforward about how you expect your child to behavior during dinner and what consequences will follow should they not follow those guidelines. This is a great opportunity to encourage good habits early in life. Another great way is to practice at home. Children love to engaged in pretend play, so why not use it as another opportunity to encourage good manners and practice how to properly eat out or at the dinner table.
- Choose an appropriate restaurant – Picking out a restaurant with a good environment and atmosphere can be very helpful when it comes to having a positive experience while dining out with young children. Choosing a restaurant that is kid friendly doesn’t mean that you need to go a place that is geared strictly towards children. We suggest finding a place that suits your child’s personality. For example, if you know your child is more spirited and can get excited and louder, go to a more causal restaurant where it wouldn’t be as distracting if your child screeching in joy when they receive their meal!
- Plan ahead. There is more to think about than just what type of restaurant you should go to. It’s important to plan and consider your child’s schedule, especially their nap or bed times and when they normally eat. Don’t wait until children are overly tired or hungry. It’s also important to consider busy times at the restaurant. If possible, head to an earlier lunch and dinner to avoid the rush and wait times. To cut down on wait, you can also view most restaurants menus online before leaving the house. Come up with a game plan of what you are going to order to minimize the time spent choosing what to eat while there. Families should also consider ordering an appetizer. Getting a healthy and tasty appetizer can help distract your child from waiting and also keep them from becoming overly hungry if it is busier in the restaurant and you don’t expect to be getting your meals as quickly as you hoped!
- Use positive, neutral language – Instead of using “don’t”, use language that encourages positive behavior. For example, instead of saying “Don’t eat your dinner with your hands.”, try saying “We always use a fork or spoon when eating our meals.”. By using positive or neutral language, you are reinforcing what the expectations are and reminding them what proper manners are.
- Bring games or activities – If a child is bored, they become curious or fussy. Come prepared! Great busy bags that include fun activities your child can work on or play with while they wait for their meals. Many restaurants will have crayons and coloring pages; don’t be afraid to ask for a few! In case those distractions aren’t working, always have an educational app downloaded on your phone or tablet!
- Don’t give up – the most important tip! Like many things in life, it will take practice. Some children may be content with visiting new places, while others become bored easily. Though you may have a few tough outings, continue to try visiting different places. It’s important that while working on getting to a place where you feel comfortable bringing your young children out to eat, that you continue to have patience and continue to reinforce what the expectations and consequences are.
What strategies have you implemented that have made dining out easier with young children?