Have you ever made the decision to eat out, hoping for a quiet, relaxing dining experience, but ended up instead with a circus of wild kids and two fuming parents? That isn’t enjoyable for anyone—including other guests at the restaurant.
The dining out experience doesn’t have to be frustrating. Here, from local child development experts, are some tips for making it work.
Choose an environment that is family friendly and where other diners won’t be bothered by a talkative or active child.
Set expectations before entering the restaurant “so that the kiddos understand what their behaviors should look like,” says Paige Webb, behavioral coach and team lead for Youth & Family First, a Glendale counseling, skills training and mentoring program.
Practice at home. Eating meals together at the table helps kids get in a routine and they are more likely to mimic appropriate behaviors when eating out, says Leigh Small, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and health innovation at ASU.
Call ahead for reservations or get there early. Wait times can be agonizing.
Pack an activity bag to take with you to keep inquisitive minds busy.
Encourage children to think about the consequences of their behavior, says Natalie D. Eggum, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU. Say, for example, “When you stand on your seat, you make me worry that you will hurt yourself” or “When you use your loud voice, the people sitting next to us can’t enjoy their meal or hear each other talk.”
Give children affirmation for good behavior you see. Say, “You are waiting for your food so patiently. Thank you.”
Don’t be afraid to leave early. “It lets the child understand that there are consequences to not following the expectations,” says Webb.
If your experience does end with a meltdown, use positive reinforcement to turn the situation around: “I’m sorry you had a bad day. Tomorrow will be a better day.”