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Teach Small Children to Behave in Restaurants

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child in high chair

Last week, my husband and I dined at a local restaurant.  The place has a pub atmosphere but tries to be family-friendly.  The booth behind us was occupied by a rather loud family. It didn’t take long for a little head and greasy hands clutching French fries to appear over the top of the booth, headed toward my husband.

Thus, began an uncomfortable meal for us because of unruly children in restaurants.

Some Parents Don’t Corral Their Little Ones in Restaurants

Kids climbing all over the back of their booth is just one example.  We have all seen them running loose all over the restaurant and even crawling under tables. The lack of discipline is appalling!  And many times, the parents don’t even notice what their little darlings are doing.  Many just don’t care.

Restaurant Staff Cannot Control Your Children

You cannot expect the servers or managers to watch over your children while you dine.  You aren’t the only patrons.  The staff could accidently trip over your running or crawling kid and spill food or hot coffee over everything and everyone.

Servers depend on tips to survive since most receive very little hourly wages.  They won’t reprimand your bratty child because it guarantees you won’t tip them. And they should not have to do so.  That is your job!

What’s a Parent to Do?

As someone who has raised 6 children, my first suggestion is to recognize that you and only you are responsible for raising respectful, well-behaved children.  Just because you think they are adorable, does not mean everyone else will agree. 

Decide when your babies come into this world to seek some kind of guidance for what is appropriate behavior at each age.  You can’t expect a two-year-old to behave as well as a six-year-old child.  Either hire a sitter for your wild child or stay home until he or she learns to behave.

What If My Kid Throws a Tantrum in the Restaurant?

We’ve all been there!  Little Jr. doesn’t want to sit in the chair and begins climbing out.  When told to sit down, the tears and screaming begin.

You cannot reason with a baby under 3 years old.  Don’t waste your time trying.  Instead, gather up the child and go outside or to the car.  If you can calm your child during that time, you may try again.  If not, agree in advance to pick up take out on the drive home – and next time, hire a sitter.

Why This Is Necessary?

You may think the world is about you but, sorry, folks.  Other people pay good money to dine out and don’t want to listen to your off-spring screaming as their background music.

Since you can’t reason with a toddler, your options for stopping him or her are limited.  Perhaps you can distract Jr. with a new toy…or not.  Truthfully, you know your child.  You know if he or she is likely to calm down once in that full-blown, wild-hellion state of mind.  Don’t subject other diners to that behavior.  Show some consideration and good manners.

Suggestions to Keep Your Child Entertained During Dinner

Before you even think of taking your child to a restaurant, please begin training him/her at home.  Teach your little one to stay in the highchair at the table until everyone finishes eating.  If you can’t do that, then Jr. is definitely not ready to eat out.

Engage your child in conversation throughout your meal.  If you don’t, of course he will get bored and want down.  Talk to your child as you eat the same way you would talk to guests.  If not, then perhaps reverting to the old school method of feeding children first before adults sit down to dinner would work better for you.  In restaurants, try:

  1. Pack a few snacks in your bag.  A small bag of a cereal he/she likes would help pass the time before the meal arrives on your table.
  2. An electronic tablet may help.   I know parents have mixed feelings on tablets, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  A set of cheap headphones and a few cartoons could save your sanity in a restaurant.
  3. Tiny toys might hold their interest.  Look for a few Matchbox type cars or some tiny dolls and keep those only for dining out.  The newness might keep your child interested.  But please be careful with anything hard in case your child throws things.  If Jr. hits another patron in the head with a steel toy, it could cost you more than dinner.
  4. Provide paper and pen.  With our kids and grandkids, I made sure they had pens or pencils and something to draw on while they waited for food.  We taught them to play tic-tac-toe and helped them draw figures. Today, many restaurants provide crayons and games to play on the children’s menu.  

If you cannot keep your child in the chair and don’t want to hold him/her in your lap, please get a sitter or stay home until the little one grows older and learns some manners.

Train Your Child at Home

With our first child, we tried occasional restaurants and quickly learned he would not cooperate.  We practiced at home until he learned that the high chair or booster chair meant sitting until we finished dinner. If he didn’t, he was placed in his room to play alone until we finished, and then he could eat the rest of his meal.  That was even if the remainder of our meal was accompanied by the background music of his crying. 

It didn’t take long until he was happy to join us at the table.  We chatted with him, even though he didn’t yet speak in sentences.  We all ate our dinner and then we sat and talked about anything to keep him interested.  Our son learned that dinner was a pleasant time for the three of us to enjoy together.

As more kids came along, we practiced good manners at the table so they would each learn the way to behave during dinner anywhere.  Our kids helped clear the table after the meal, and even the toddlers could help some with that. By learning that clean-up is work, they learned to respect the table in restaurants and we explained that our server had to do all the cleaning work alone.  The kids knew better than to throw food on the floor.

If you treat your children with respect and teach them what you expect, they will treat others respectfully.

Respect Is What It’s All About

What it boils down to is teaching your children to respect others.  If he learns to respect your decisions at home, he can learn to do so away from home.  Whether your child is 2 or 5, if he can’t sit quietly in his chair at a dinner table and keep the food on the table, then he isn’t old enough to go to restaurants.

If I go out to dinner, it is not because I want to spend the evening with someone’s undisciplined 2 or 3-year-old child wiping food in my hair.  Most people feel this way. 

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