Some small children act as politely as adults in restaurants and can carry on conversation and manners as if they went to the finest finishing schools in the world. However, most young children under age five are not this well-behaved and frankly, this is pretty normal. For one, sitting quietly in a restaurant is not a behavior that comes naturally to kids. This is, however, an opportunity to teach them what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Small children are especially difficult in restaurants. Here are some tips:
- These guys have endless energy and short attention spans. Don't expect them to sit still for hours and be quiet. Instead of waiting for your child to start running around the restaurant and weaving in and out of tables during the main course, bring them for a walk to the bathroom or outside at opportune times, such as right after you place your order. This diversion and excerise will allow them limited time at the actual table.
- Bring them hungry, but not starving. You don't want them to be so hungry that they are cranky and on the verge of a tantrum (we all know that hunger is a trigger!). However, you also don't want them to fill up on crackers and the bread basket before their meal comes; otherwise, just when you are ready to dig in, they will be full. If you want half a chance of your child eating their main course, they need a little appetite.
- Some kids are also picky eaters, so order the foods you know they will enjoy. In a new setting, sometimes seeing a familiar food, such as a hamburger, helps keep the whole experience a successful one.
- Go to a place that is kid-friendly, maybe even has an outdoor seating area and is not too quiet. If your child starts screaming or talking loudly, do you really want everyone turning around to look at you?
- Ask ahead of time to see if the restaurant has crayons for your kids, but also bring things for them to do. An activity book with puzzles or a coloring book can work, or you can really surprise your child with something that they haven't seen before, such as a new toy.
- Take turns with your partner in working with the child.
- Focus on teaching one lesson at a time – the main objective here is to understand how to behave in a restaurant and eat a meal with a group, engage in conversation and other normal mealtime activities. Until those basics are mastered, forget about trying to get the child to put his napkin on his lap or keep his elbows off the table. Those manners are important, but might be lost on a child at this age who is trying to understand so many other concepts at once.
Don't be dismayed if your child gives you nothing but trouble in restaurants. With some help from you, they will outgrow this stage soon enough.