You’ve probably had this experience before, I know I have. You decide it’s a great night for eating out and choose a popular restaurant to go to. Or, perhaps it’s a special night for you and your spouse and you’ve dressed up and are looking forward to going to your favorite eating establishment to spend a little quality time together. Once there, you’re having a wonderful conversation and waiting on your dinner to arrive.
A family with small children arrives and is seated in the booth behind yours. You don’t think much about it until suddenly a volcano of chaos erupts. You are now faced with a child (or children) who is screaming, kicking the back of the booth, jumping up and down, running around the restaurant tables, tossing food and has picked this moment for a category-5 meltdown.
Meanwhile the parents continue having their conversation, oblivious to the fact that their child is ruining everyone else’s dining experience.
Sound somewhat familiar? Of course, this doesn’t only happen in restaurants but also in stores, movie theaters and other places where people have to share space with one another.
I use the term “parents” only as an example. You can substitute grandparents, guardians, friends – whoever should be in charge.
Let’s face it, this can be a touchy topic. Many parents become quite defensive when this subject comes up and people who’ve had their dining experience interrupted by an out of control child can get very upset.
It’s become such a problem for customers that some restaurants won’t serve families with kids under 6.
A lot of parents get this. They don’t want their kids acting up or causing anyone discomfort. But they also want to be able to eat out with their kids every once in a while.
So what is a parent to do?
Good behavior begins at home and teaching children table manners and social etiquette when they are small helps them learn self-control even in stimulating environments like restaurants.
What do the experts suggest?
Teach your child table manners at home before they ever go to a restaurant. Mealtime should be relaxed but controlled. Explain to children the rules of eating together. Re-enforce them. When a child acts up at the home table exert a consequence such as time-out. Or remove the child from the table and explain why that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. Return and try again. Praise your child when they practice good self-control.
When children are little, short meals are better. Expecting a 2 or 3 year old to sit for more than 15 to 20 minutes after they’ve finished eating is too much to ask. Their attention spans are simply too short at that age.
Teach your child how to pass the food around the table. Children often reach across the table to grab what they want. They really don’t know better until they are taught.
Teach your children how to properly use silverware. Children often get frustrated with silverware and resort to using their fingers to eat with. It takes practice and eye-hand coordination to get comfortable using a fork and spoon, but even small children can get the hang of it with a little patience and praise.
Set expectations. Tell your child what proper behavior in restaurants is. Explain that they will need to stay in their chair, use their inside voice and ask for things that they want.
Prepare for eating out by bringing a few of your child’s favorite small toys. Also coloring books and crayons can help keep their energy and attention focused. If your child is not drinking from a cup yet bring his or her own sippy cup. Crackers or a snack are also good to pack so that your child doesn’t get too hungry while waiting for his or her food.
If your child has a booster seat at home, consider bringing it along. They are already comfortable in it and it’s familiar.
Compliment your child when they are behaving. Let them know you appreciate their effort.
Should you take a baby to a restaurant? Some experts say no. A baby is too unpredictable and certainly too young to understand where they are or what is expected of them.
Others say yes if you pick a suitable restaurant. Choose one that is “child friendly” and has a restroom with a changing table. Some experts suggest you bring a travel chair that you know is clean. You don’t know if the baby before yours was sick when they were sitting in the restaurant’s high chair. If you breastfeed, call ahead and find out what the restaurants policy is on breastfeeding.
Consider enrolling your child in an etiquette class. It’s not as old fashion as it sounds. Today’s classes are geared towards today’s kids and can really help children understand the benefits of good manners. They are also in a class setting with other kids and a teacher. It adds a whole new perspective.
And no matter what age your child is, if they start screaming, have a tantrum or can’t keep in their seat it’s time to ask for a take-out box and leave or take your child outside and away from others diners until they are able to calm down.
Most people understand that families don’t always want to eat at home. It’s not the fact that children are at the restaurant where they’ve chosen to eat that upsets them. It’s when children continually misbehave and their parents choose to ignore them. This situation creates a miserable situation for the diners, the kids and the people who work at the restaurant.