My little Monkey is now nearly 29 months old and we don’t go out to very nice restaurants with him at this point. If we do eat out as a family, we’re usually relegated to restaurants that primarily serve pancakes or chicken fingers. Or that have parrots hanging from the ceiling. Or that not only dole out the crayons, but have crushed crayon on the floors and scribbles on the table. Those are the places that make me feel comfortable and safe when I venture out with the little dude.
It wasn’t always this way.
Within weeks after the Monkey was born, we started to venture out to our favorite places to eat in San Francisco. From about 2 weeks to 6 months, the Dude and I would roll our Monkey along in his carseat to some of our favorite places, including upscale restaurants. Think we’re crazy? I beg to differ. We knew his nap routine perfectly and he always slept like a dream in his carseat. I say to all new-parent friends – go out with your newborn. Take advantage of their nap schedule AND their ability to sleep through anything. Don’t be nervous. There is a very good chance that your newborn will be better behaved than most other patrons.
Around 6 months, his sleep routine changed and so did his activity level. We started to hire babysitters more often.
When we do take the Monkey out, there are a few tips that have helped me along the way. Now, my child is no angel and I would never pretend otherwise. He is a very normal and active toddler who can scream and flail like a banshee when his freedom to do as he pleases is restricted. That said, I have still managed to garner a few compliments from other patrons about his behavior at restaurants. Why? Because I put myself in the shoes of other patrons. I do not like dining around unruly children. I do not want my child to be THAT child. Yet it is inevitable, though. Your child will throw a temper tantrum at some point in public and it is very likely that it will be at a restaurant.
How To Avoid Tantrums (and how to deal with them when they occur):
- Before you head into a restaurant with your child, explain your expectations. Tell your child that you expect them to sit in their seat and behave. If they have a favorite menu item, tell them that if they behave, they will get (insert chicken fingers, hamburger, etc…). Children respond well to rewards. However, I do not reward with dessert or new toys. I create a reward system out of mundane things. For example, my child loves driving around in the car. I tell him that if he behaves, we will drive around. I also reward with one of his stuffed animals that he adores or with stickers or crayons. When he expects a (small) reward, he usually behaves appropriately.
- I don’t give my child toys to play with at the table at home, but it’s another story at restaurants. Come prepared with crayons, a coloring book and a few small cars or dolls. Most parents agree: diversion and entertainment can work wonders.
- Bring a favorite (healthy) snack just in case they are picky about the menu items. It also helps if the service is slow or the kitchen is busy. I also usually order my child’s food before my own and ask the waiter to bring it right away, like an appetizer. We all know: hungry children = cranky children.
- When your child is behaving well, compliment him on his good behavior. Children love attention from parents, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. However, they ultimately love it when mommy and daddy are smiling and happy with their good behavior. A positive response to appropriate behavior will usually ensure that the child will continue that behavior. Ignoring good behavior is the equivalent of not clapping after a great performance. If you want more, you need to validate it.
- If your child is acting up and has become unruly in a restaurant, do not ignore it. Start with a warning and let them know that you will have to leave with him or her if they continue to act up. If it escalates to a tantrum, do not ignore it. Now, this can be tricky because chances are good that you heard ignoring temper tantrums is the best way to stop them. Yes, that’s true. But there is a time and place for everything. Do not subject other restaurant patrons and employees to a temper tantrum. When my child throws himself on the floor at home, I ignore him. When he does that in a restaurant, I take him outside in order to calm him down. I again explain my expectations of him and tell him that there will be a reward for his good behavior. I also inform him of consequences (take away a toy, no story, etc…). If the child is not able to behave appropriately after a stern warning, remove him from that environment. We have had to end meals very quickly a few times. This is just a part of parenting and being conscientious of the people around you.
- Whatever you do, do not let your child run around the restaurant or go to other tables. No one thinks it’s cute or funny. In fact, it’s dangerous. Speaking from experience as a breakfast waitress for many years during my time in school, I have personally spilled hot coffee and hot plates of food on children running under my feet. Do not let that happen to your kid.
Have any other tips or ideas about children in restaurants? Or just want to share a story? Please comment!