Growing up, dinner at my house was not always a family event. With four kids, school work, sports, and two working parents, there were many crock-pot, “eat when you are home” meals. On occasion, we would all sit down and eat as a family. From as early as I can remember my parents would encourage us to use good table manners by telling us that we were “practicing for the prom.” I remember thinking this was really stupid. What was prom, anyway, and why did it matter that I chewed with my mouth closed?
Like all other behaviors, public behavior takes practice and doesn’t always go as planned. All parents have been there, embarrassed by a screaming kid or an object being thrown to the table next to them. Relax. It happens. The good news is that with a few simple changes in your approach and some time, your child will be easy to take out to dinner.
- Talk to them on the way to the restaurant. Have a conversation about how to behave in a public place. Practice using inside voices, keeping food on the table, and sitting in your chair. With time, kids grow to understand what is expected, but often need reminding before they are in the moment.
- Start small. Whether you are just starting to take your child out to restaurants or trying to start over, start with casual family places that are fast. Most of the time the issues start because the kid is bored or hungry, and there is no relief in sight. Going to a “kids eat free” night is a great way to be around other families and see some other ways parents are teaching their kids about public behavior.
- Have a bag of goodies ready. Travel games, coloring books, crayons, and snacks are all ways to pass the time and keep your child focused and in their seat. To really make it special, have these toys only available when you go out.
- Remove your child if necessary. If your child becomes loud, aggressive, or needs to get out of their chair, remove them from the restaurant immediately. Other patrons should never need to sit and hear crying or screaming from another table. Nor should they need stop their conversations or meals because a child is under their chair. Going outside for a minute and taking a break until the issue has passed is helpful for your child, yourself, and the other people around you.
- At the table remind your child of the conversation you had in the car and what their behavior should look and sound like.
- Reward them. The importance of positive reinforcement cannot be overstated. If your child is doing a good job, reward them. Tell them that you like what they are doing and to keep up the good work. A special treat at the end of the meal is another good way to reward a night of good behavior.
- If your child goes out with other family members, let them know what you are working on so they can take part in encouraging and rewarding good public behavior.
- Give it some time. A child’s behavior is not always easy to predict nor is it initially consistent. You may have a few great experiences followed by a rough patch. Be patient and try again. You may have to leave a few places before your child knows that you are serious about their behavior. Keeping your cool and staying in control are always the best ways to handle a frustrating situation like this.
- Practice the ideal situation. Take time at home during meals to practice restaurant behavior. Set a timer and set up a similar situation to going out where your child has to wait for their food, sit in their chair, and use a quiet voice. If they have practiced what this behavior looks and feels like, they are more likely to remember it when the real time comes.
What are some ways you have prepared your child to dine out? Have you struggled with this type of situation? Please leave a comment below.
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