It wasn't long ago that our son James decided that he would rather eat his fish and chips in the car than to sit in the restaurant with his two sisters.
Initially I was very put out with him before realising that perhaps he had a point. Eating out was becoming stressful rather than a pleasure. It made me sit back and look at our situation. Erin was more interested in playing musical chairs as well as being the music. Eila was gleefully decorating the floor with her pasta sauce.
I realised that we were spending a great deal of energy trying to control our impatient younger kids.
However after reading a little and talking to friends a lot I found some great methods to make eating out with young kids a lot more bearable and a lot less stressful, hell you might even enjoy the experience.
Yes romantic nights out are probably a little less stressful but I love our family dinners too, so it’s about making it work!
1. Practice makes perfect.
Practice proper dinner manners by allowing your kids to bring their favourite stuffed animals to a tea party. This gives you a chance to show your kids how to have table manners using their friends as examples. You don’t need to go so far as to teach the raised pinky finger while sipping tea from a dainty cup, but you get the idea. If you spend some time at each meal in the home correcting and asking questions on the correct manners that will transfer to the restaurant when you do venture out. Bob’s your uncle.
2. Choose a family friendly restaurant.
Its not recommended to bring your little ones to the hippest new restaurant in town, like, ever. But just do a little research online in advance. We’ve all been afraid of being that table in a restaurant.
Find a place where small spills and messes aren’t a big deal. Where table clothes are plastic rather than linen. Where the kids menu is more than an after thought and the atmosphere is buzzy so that you don’t have to speak in hushed tones. I was always one to frown on screens in kids hands at the dinner table and I still have reservations about it if the kid has it from the minute they sit to the minute they get up. But I have given my kids a phone when their meal is finished and conversations were had early on just so that myself and John could enjoy our dinner at a more relaxed pace.
3. Time is everything.
Plan to eat early so your child isn’t overly tired or hungry. Factor in wait times at the restaurant too! There is no calming a tired and hungry child. A 6pm dinner time may not be ideal for you but its a lot better than eating stressed at 8pm… trust me! Children have a window, if you miss it, it’s game over.
4. Busy Bees make more honey.
I always bring small coloring books or similar to keep our kids occupied while they wait for food. Conversation can be dotted in between furious colouring of Olaf or Moana.
I’m mad for the nostalgic games and being old fashioned I also sometimes get them to play “Simon Says.” Which my partner always uses to say “Simon says be quiet as a mouse”!
5. Family night.
I always make sure to go around the table and ask each child about something that might engage the rest of the family but will make them have to think about what they are going to say. Like a catch up. It always amazes me what they come up with when I ask them “So what have you learned this week?”
6. Stay calm.
Its proven that most children will ramp up their bad behaviour if they can see that her behavior is bothering you. Yup our little angels get into power struggles with us and they have the uncanny habit of doing this when we sit down to dinner.
My advice, stay calm and follow through with the consequences you discussed during their training (at the tea party above). I have found over the years that if threats are made that aren’t carried through on I lose the battle very quickly and they push the boundaries the next time!