Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development shares some tips for going to restaurants with your kids.
Go early – this allows you to feed your child at their (presumably) regular eating time and decreases stress because the restaurant is likely to be quieter.
Be clear about the do’s and don’ts – before you go, explain what’s okay and what’s not okay (behaviour-wise) to your child. For instance, “we walk in the restaurant, not run” or “we use quiet voices”; “we keep our feet off the furniture” etc. You may want to put a motivator in place i.e. “if we can follow the restaurant rules, we might stop off for ice cream on the way home!”. Similarly, be clear about consequences for ‘not okay’ behaviour. If your child plays up, calmly take them outside and talk to them as calmly as you can to work out the problem and to find a solution. This is waaaaay easier done when you don’t have the family/friends/co-diners observing you so do what you can to move yourself and your kiddo to somewhere private. This also reduces the chances of your child playing up further out of embarrassment.
Restaurant choice – if you’re not used to fine dining, don’t go anywhere too posh. However these tips will work if you do! Sometimes taking a graded approach to posh restaurants can help i.e. gradually build up the posh factor, starting with a standard restaurant first and each time you go out go somewhere posher!
Take entertainment – whether or not you use devices is your choice but please if you do, TAKE HEADPHONES!!! There is nothing worse for other diners than hearing a child’s nursery rhymes blaring out of an iPad while they’re trying to enjoy their meal! Other successful options are sticker books, or colouring books (remember the pencils etc.!), dry erase activities, origami (if your kiddo is into it!)…You can also ask the restaurant if they have any colouring packs (but be wary – they often charge for them!)
Don’t overstay – kids get bored quickly and easily and it then means that no one enjoys themselves! Get the waiter’s attention and order as quickly as you can. Look at the menu online to speed up the process. Maybe don’t order 3 courses if you think that’s going to be too long for your kiddo to sit at the table for.
Don’t give too much choice – sometimes kids have trouble ordering off the menu. I often recommend giving a choice of 2 from the menu i.e. “do you want the spaghetti or the pizza?”. You don’t have to allow your kids to eat something unhealthy from the kids menu if you don’t want to – just don’t give it as an option. It’s okay to say no!
Movement – some kids just need a good walk around the restaurant to be able to stay calm and happy. It’s perfectly fine to take your kiddo outside for a little break if they need it, or if the venue is suitable, for a wander around the restaurant.
So, in summary, be prepared! Can you tell I’ve been through this many times?! It’s really important to remember that if your child is struggling, you need to stay calm. They feed off our anxiety/embarrassment/shame because it makes them feel uncomfortable and it can then exacerbate their behaviour. So try to get down to their level, connect with them, acknowledge how they’re feeling and devise a solution.
I’d love to hear any tips you guys have, so please let us know if you have any other ideas that might help the families we work with!
Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive. Appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News, regularly featuring in print media, and as a contributor to Finch Publishing’s “Working Mums” book, Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get children thriving. Having worked with children of all ages over the past 20 years and as a psychologist for the past 10 years, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully and help them reach their full potential. Amanda frequently presents at seminars and conferences, most recently at the 7th annual Learning Differences convention in Melbourne and Sydney in 2019.