[My Sidelines writing – re-posting again!]
I know we must all have at least one nightmarish memory swirling around the thought of wild kids in restaurants!
Maybe that memory is of someone else’s darling leaning over the booth top at the diner, sticking out her petulant tongue at us while we try to enjoy our food, her parents completely zoned out on their little darling’s wanton stare.
Or maybe it’s that memory of someone else’s four-year-old weaving in and out of the restaurant aisles, up and down out of his seat, under the table or standing in his chair, while his overly loud parent threatens, or worse, is oblivious to it all because she assumes that is how children are “supposed” to act in public. The old “kids will be kids” excuse in action, overly employed by those who need some new techniques.
Or maybe your own kids decided to break out the old temper tantrum right when the waitress informs you that the kitchen is backed up and your food is on a delay.
It’s enough to make anyone want to avoid the issue altogether, keep a babysitter on speed dial, and proclaim no kids should be allowed in a restaurant before age, say, fifteen!
Don’t do it. Here, I’m giving you my Top Three Tips from a Mom of Many who has been there, done that, enjoys meals out en masse at restaurants with the kids whenever possible, and who still regularly gets compliments from strangers about “how well behaved” they are. (I used to be a little insulted, wondering why they’d assume my kids wouldn’t be good, but then I learned. I accept the compliments graciously now.)
1) Start at Home. Teach your kids table manners at home, and “play restaurant” with them sometimes. Find what shushes your baby the quickest (holding him close, a sharp “shh!”, distraction, crayons and post-its, whatever), and use the same technique as soon as the storm clouds gather over your restaurant table. Make sure you keep a few snacks to kill hunger pains in your bag, plus one or two quiet toys, for when you head out. Stop them gently from disturbing other patrons, even when the other guests are being polite, and teach them to enjoy themselves with you.
2) Start early. As soon as you’re less paranoid about strangers’ germs swirling around your newborn’s head, go on a date with your special other, baby in tow, and start getting baby used to the sights and sounds of restaurant décor, staff and other diners. Baby starting to cry? Soothe and step out for a moment, if necessary. Baby hungry? Learn the techniques of covert feeding (where nobody notices – sorry, but I’m not an advocate of boobs-out breastfeeding in restaurants. A nice blanket suffices. Start something if you want to.) Keep at it. Your baby will soon learn to navigate the restaurant environment, you’ll enjoy your meals more, and other diners will smile and coo at you — and your baby, too!
3) Start at “Family-Friendly” Restaurants. This way, when the best laid plans of mice and men don’t work, there will be baby-friendly seating and bathroom facilities for your convenience, and other, more understanding diners around you, cutting down on icy stares and grumbling matrons who forget they used to go through the very same thing. Choose wisely, looking at the type of guests, the menu fare, the surroundings, everything, then decide if it will be a good environment for your family.
Lastly, don’t ever be afraid to get up and walk right back out the door if your child is misbehaving at a restaurant. Actually, we’re asking you to do so. Nothing works 100% of the time. Ask the waiter to wrap your food to-go, give him a tip, and go. Everyone, including your child, will be happier in the end. If you need to discourage your older child from acting up in public a second time, promise they’ll stay home the next time you go, and follow through. Leave them with a sitter. They’ll learn that lesson quick.
Most restaurants are for the enjoyment of everyone, including your children. Again, choose wisely before you decide to take your child, prepare well, and then go enjoy yourselves!
I’d love to hear your favorite tips, too.