Going out to eat
For many new parents, a sign of progress is after baby is to go back to a favorite restaurant AND have a reasonable good time with your kids. Getting there begins the same way as many of our other desired outcomes. You have to start early, set the right expectations and improve over time.
Going out to eat is a great opportunity to teach your children social skills and a great time to have good conversations and enjoying time together as a family. At this time, we really don't recommend electronics (there is plenty opportunity for using screens these days). Screens don’t help kids learn how to control themselves, or have a good conversation. In fact, introducing a screen into the equation sends a very clear message that going to a restaurant is not a time to be together - it is a time to be apart.
Instead, bring things to entertain them. Restaurants have been using crayons and wiki sticks forever. Every family restaurant worth its salt should have a kids menu that you can color on. It is just that these activities can be done together. They are not a method of getting your kids away from you.
What about ordering? How parents treat the kind women and men who wait on you at a restaurant says very much about how we are teaching our children. Please and Thank You start here. The dinner table is a starting point to teach respect and understanding for all people.
All of our favorite ethnic restaurants up the ante on this idea. Indian, Chinese, Mexican or Thai - a favorite ethnic restaurant is usually a celebration of that culture’s identity, food and people. Encourage your kids to ask questions respectfully. They will want to know what the decorations mean, where do the people come from and what are their traditions? What a great opportunity to reach out and make connections with other cultures - and teach a sense of wonder about our world.
Even very small children can interact with the staff at a restaurant in a positive way. This is your chance to throw them into the world in a controlled environment. Send your two-year-old to the counter to ask for their own water, their own cups and their own napkins, roll model with them at the table, practice and then watch them do it. It is very fun as a parent to see your child building confidence.
A few Kindhabits to practice next time you go out to dinner with the family:
Please and Thank You
Ordering your own food with Please and Thank You
Getting help yourself
A few more last tips:
If your children are very young. Get up and walk around the restaurant in between ordering and when the food comes. It is hard for young children to sit still that long and giving them a break will let you eat more calmly. You can even take turns with your partner to go outside for a little bit if the food is taking too long.
Request bowls, not plates and smaller spoons so your kids can eat without so much mess.
From mom: I always keep a special bag in my purse with little toys that the kids can play just when we are out doing errands, restaurants, Dr. office, dentist… I change it from time to time so it is exciting for them to see it and play with different things.