Dining Out With Kids: A Survival Guide!
We all love the indulgence of going out for dinner, but facing the prospect with small children in tow can feel intimidating, if not downright scary! While a meal out with the whole family can be chaotic, there is great value in exposing our children to different environments and levels of formality. In this sense, taking a strategic approach can allow us to navigate a potentially rocky start to child inclusive outings. It can lay the foundations for children that are able to adapt to different social situations, giving all age groups all the opportunity to enjoy time together with relative ease.
Establish Ground Rules
As you discuss the rules with your kids, ask them to repeat the key points back to you, as vocalising ideas will make it far more likely that what you have said will be remembered, and of course ensure that your kids are actually paying attention! Laying down clear boundaries ahead of time not only gives clear parameters for discipline but also creates structured expectations for children, letting them know exactly what is expected of them.
Enforce the idea that going out means behaving in a certain way, but also offers exciting new experiences, and positive rewards. Share the reasons why your children can enjoy this new adventure, such as trying new flavours, seeing a really lovely place, and getting to enjoy a lovely dessert if they behave well throughout the meal.
This work can begin at home, at formal occasions or family meals. Each household is different in terms of their expectations of children during meal times, but creating an opportunity for more formal meals at home can establish social skills that will serve fantastically in the years ahead. Rules such as not leaving the table while others are eating, not shouting, and trying all the food presented on their plate will help young minds to develop all-important self-discipline too.
Screen Time Strategy
Many families make use of devices to create windows of calm in a house with small children. The broader debate as to whether screens should be allowed at the dinner table is always a heated one! Whatever your own preferences, it is worth deciding what will be permissible before entering the new realm of going out for dinner. If you are on the fence, consider allowing screens between courses, but insisting that they go away while food is on the table. With highly active minds, children can struggle to stay in line without something to focus on, but we can do our best to steer what serves as entertainment.
Do Your Homework
While having the freedom to take our children out is important, we have to keep in mind that other diners are paying for their meal with certain expectations in terms of ambience and experience. Many restaurants offer assistance when it comes to keeping children happy, while others are less child-friendly. When planning your outing, look for cues such as a kids menu or a play area to get an idea of how family-friendly an establishment is and what useful tools, or friendly staff, may be on hand to help you in your endeavours!
If you suspect you will be dining in a less child-oriented environment, as can often be the case when we are invited to an event hosted by someone else, simply adjust your strategy. Speaking in advance to the host or venue, asking to be seated at the edge of the room, perhaps closer to the exit, and pre-ordering nibbles to keep kids happy from the moment they sit down can make a huge difference.
Restaurant Survival Bag
Pack some useful aids such as a few choice toys, colouring books and cups with lids for small hands that haven’t quite got the measure of gravity yet. Don’t forget some wet wipes and even some snacks. If the restaurant is busy and you find yourself waiting for your food, with grumpy children starting to grumble, a few snacks can save the day. While the restaurant staff won’t appreciate it if you arrive with a full picnic, most venues will be delighted to warm up baby food for you or see a bag of nuts keeping hungry kids content.
Set The Tone
Keep in mind that the way you act will most likely be reflected right back at you. Kids are great at that! Avoid showing your anxiety or frustration, aiming instead to maintain a calm tone with consistent volume control. While your children might not follow suit as much as you’d like, allowing your own demeanour to slide will certainly make things escalate! Pull focus in a positive way by initiating a game of eye-spy when you arrive at the venue. Ask the kids what they like about where they are, and move things forward if a particular topic or activity is causing rifts.
Even if kids are a little reluctant, a balanced amount of joining in with family conversation in a different environment can be a great way to reinforce the family connection. See if you can think of some conversation topics before your meal begins.
Part of the fun of going out is allowing others to take care of us, but we ought to be aware of the extra mess and disruption that children can cause. Staying aware of your impact on staff within the venues you visit, and trying to keep chaos to a minimum, will create allies that accommodate the extra needs of your family, rather than resentment towards the big clear-up required afterwards! Take note of the help you receive, try to keep the experience as positive as possible for everyone involved, and leave a tip that reflects any extra service that staff may have provided.
Enjoy The Positive
Children grow up so very quickly, and while experiences like dining out with kids can feel a little traumatic at times, they are also an opportunity to build memories that we will treasure when our young get big! Your children are just developing their capacity to self-regulate so, if things go wrong when dining out, absolutely maintain the boundaries you established, but try to let the tension go once the moment has passed. Children can learn that they have a choice to back-pedal away from a moment of bad judgement, experiencing the positive moments that make eating out together worthwhile. In this way, you can add the experience of dining out to your family catalogue of time well spent together.