It can be quite tricky to bring a young child to a restaurant. It’s normal for a toddler or preschooler to grow restless, unruly and bored. Within minutes he will be running around the table, if not climbing right on top of it. And what if he breaks a glass or starts throwing food in the air? It’s enough to make parents give up on eating out and resigning themselves to McDonald’s until their child reaches, say, high school.
However, restaurant manners can be learned, and your child will become better behaved with age, practice, patience, and these tips.
Choose a child-friendly restaurant
You don’t have to go to fastfood chains all the time, but it helps to pick a restaurant that is ‘friendlier’ to a child’s temperament and palate. Your toddler will want familiar food that’s easy to eat. Ideally the restaurant should have booster seats or high chairs, or if not that, private booths or sectioned areas (versus one large room). Quick service is also crucial. But it helps to be prepared! Bring along a snack or two in case the food takes long—hungry kids are more likely to throw tantrums.
Practice restaurant manners every day
Your child won’t know how to sit at the table or use a spoon unless he practices at home. While you can’t expect him to handle his utensils perfectly (he’s a kid, and fine motor skills are not fully developed) at least show him how to feed himself, and discourage habits like playing with food or reaching over to get something that he wants, at risk of knocking over a glass.
Stick to a routine
Your toddler will be more likely to throw a tantrum if his schedule is disrupted, and he is too tired or even starving by the time he reaches the restaurant. So, it may not be a good idea to bring him out for dinner if he tends to fall asleep by 7 p.m. Or, if he usually takes his lunch at 12:30, get to the restaurant by 12:00, so the food will arrive at exactly the time he’s used to.
If it’s impossible to stick to the schedule, then compromise: bring a snack to take the edge of your child’s hunger, and order a smaller meal or ask the waiter to halve the portion so you can bring the leftovers home.
Set simple restaurant rules
Keep the rules concrete and simple. ‘Use the quiet inside voice.’ Or ‘Sit in your chair.’ And instead of saying what you don’t want him to do (‘Stop playing with your food!’) tell him what you want him to do (‘Use your spoon and fork.’)
Photo from goodfamilyrestaurants.wordpress.com