Taking young children to restaurants isn’t for the faint of heart. If they misbehave, you’ll get the stink eye from the other customers and your own meal will be ruined. But if you don’t have great babysitting options and are tired of take-out and cooking your own meals, you don’t have any other options.
You don’t have to go out there and wing it — here are some tips that will help you survive and maybe even enjoy eating out with your youngsters.
1. Give it a Test Run at Home
Before you step foot in that restaurant, your child should have some idea of what will unfold. If they don’t know what to expect, you could end up with an unhappy surprise too — a child so overwhelmed with sudden changes that they unleash an epic tantrum.
To stop that storm from brewing, talk to your child about what happens at a restaurant. Play a game of pretend in which they are the customer and you’re the waiter. You can highlight the importance of manners and acceptable behavior.
2. Think About the Best Time of the Day
Late dinners might sound good to you, but if your child is usually in bed then, it’s a bad choice. Figure out what time of the day your child is likely to behave the best and go out to eat at that time.
As parents, we’re often at the mercy of our children’s sleep schedules. They grow so fast, though, it won’t be long before you’ll be able to eat at restaurants at any time of the day or night.
3. Avoid Rush Hour at the Restaurant
Young children aren’t known for a long attention span or for behaving for extended amounts of time. By going to a restaurant when it isn’t experiencing a dinner or lunch rush, you’ll cut down on how long your child will have to try to sit there and wait patiently.
4. Bring a Distraction
Bring a small toy with you, or a word search if your child is able to read. If your child has something that interests them, they’ll be so distracted they won’t be as inclined to behave badly or turn in that whiny child other people complain about.
5. Find a Place with Foods They’ll Like
If you bring your child to a restaurant that doesn’t serve kid-friendly foods, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The second your child sees something that looks gross on their plate after waiting for so long to get served, you’ll be treated to a world-class meltdown.
6. Bring a Snack
Don’t worry about spoiling your child’s dinner. Remember, they don’t eat as much in one sitting as you do. They may be starving by the time dinner comes out.
If you have a light snack you can whip out to avoid that crisis, the better their behavior will be.
7. Make Sure You Talk to Them Too
If you avoid your child so you can have an adult conversation with your spouse, they may begin behaving badly just to get your attention. Don’t forget they are there at the restaurant, too. If you want to have a date night, you should book a babysitter — if you take the whole family to the restaurant, you need to view this as family time and act accordingly.
8. Be Clear There Will Be Consequences if They Misbehave
Let your child know ahead of time that if they misbehave in the restaurant, you or your partner will take them out to the car while the other person eats. Or, if you’re not prepared to do that, tell them they will not have any television privileges for a day or two.
Make sure you follow through if there is bad behavior.
9. Make Sure They Know This is a Special Treat
If your child knows how much you’re looking forward to your special family time, they’ll be excited about it too. That means they’ll behave better than usual because they won’t want to ruin this time either.
10. Don’t Give Up After the First Attempt
You might not have a completely smooth trial run the first time you go to a restaurant with your whole family. That’s okay. You’ll get the hang of things soon enough.
It Can Work
You’re not destined to become a shut-in if you have small children. But taking them out successfully does require some work and planning on your part.
You’ll know you’re doing well when you get approving looks and nods from the other customers in the restaurant instead of hostile stares.
Author Note: Jenny Silverstone is a professional writer, editor, and most importantly, the loving mother of two beautiful kids. Jenny’s goal at Mom Loves Best is to help the other moms like her who are struggling and trying to do their best but feel totally overwhelmed.