Taking kids to restaurants can often be seen as a bit of a social faux pas. While you can’t always avoid taking your children along, people often don’t understand that kids aren’t always completely under your control, and things can escalate rapidly into a situation neither you nor your kids can enjoy. These high-stress situations are neither relaxing nor educational. So what can you do to set your kids up for success and ensure they learn how to behave appropriately in a restaurant setting, whilst enjoying a nice meal out with you?
Keeping children busy is important to their happiness. Some restaurants provide playsets including colouring pages, puzzles and games along with crayons or coloured pencils with which to fill them in. But taking along some things of their own and letting them choose bits and bats to entertain themselves with is a good idea, too; often these games are a bit simplistic and older children may not find them challenging enough to be busy for long. Or smaller children may find them too complex and need something they are better able to understand. In either case, try thinking ahead. For an older child, it can be as simple as a book – if they enjoy reading – or even a Nintendo DS. Obviously, if the aim is to spend time together as a family, you’ll want to spend a good portion of your time in conversation rather than watching the tops of their heads, but know your audience and be willing to work with the shortcomings of a child’s attention span. For small children, try finding a toy that is not too big and not too noisy but holds their attention. Toy mobile phones can be a great idea for many little hands as the buttons are entertaining but the volume can usually be turned down to suit your environment. Alternatively, buy a couple of small toys for each child; the novelty of the new toy, magazine or book will make up for its size and you can often find this is the perfect way to keep kids busy for hours. A toy car can cost less than a pound and little toys like GoGos or Halo Megabloks figurines are equally cheap and fun.
Be willing to chill out. Of course, you expect high standards of behaviour from your kids and you may not wish to buy them dessert if they don’t behave right or eat their greens. But if you’re tense, they will be tense and their behaviour will deteriorate accordingly as will your ability to relax and enjoy the night out. Chill. Children who aren’t labouring under extreme expectations will be more pleasant to be around. Sure, there might be other people who disapprove of your more relaxed technique, but that’s all right. Those people mean nothing to you. And as long as you choose your restaurant reasonably sensibly – which is to say, eleven pm on a Friday evening is not the time to bring a toddler to a romantic restaurant – you have nothing to be ashamed of.
So sit back, peruse the menu at your leisure, and spend some time offwith your kids. Remain the person in charge, but be willing to let a few things slide and engage your children in a genuine person-to-person exchange of ideas. You’ll enjoy it more – and so will they!