Dining Out With Toddlers…WITHOUT an iPad!!

Dining Out - June 2014When our twins were 2, we went out to dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant.  It was a nice place, and fairly quiet, but kid-friendly with a nice kids menu.  Throughout dinner, our kids (including our oldest, who was 9 at the time) were well-behaved.  If they started to bang on the table, or bang their silverware, we quietly reminded them that this was a restaurant and they needed to behave properly.

At one point, the older couple at the table next to us commented as to how well-behaved all 3 kids were.  “We have two grandchildren, and they would never sit that nicely at a restaurant,” said the grandmother.  “Well, not without their iPads!” laughed the grandfather.  They went on to tell us that when their son and daughter-in-law go out to dinner, each of their two kids gets an iPad at the table!!

That seems to have become the norm in our society.  Parents no longer teach their kids about restaurant etiquette or the basics of public behavior.  That takes work.  That takes effort.  That takes patience.  It’s much easier to put an iPad or smartphone in front of them and let them put their head down in the screen.  And once you start that, well, it’s pretty tough to go back!

From day 1, with our oldest, our rule was simple.  No toys and no games in a restaurant.  When we had the twins, the rule did not change!  A child has to learn how to behave in a restaurant setting.  They have to learn the sequence of events:  we may have to wait a few minutes for a table, then sit and decide what to eat, then order and wait for our food, and likely wait after eating while Mommy and Daddy finish eating and relaxing.  How is a child supposed to learn any of this if his/her head is in the latest game app?  Sure, some restaurants have crayons with place mats to color on.  And that’s fine.  The kids are still aware of their surroundings, and we parents can even engage and color with them.  That’s far different from the isolated world of an iPad or smartphone.  Kids will transition more smoothly to nicer restaurants without crayons if they haven’t been conditioned to bury their nose in a video game.

It’s not easy.  It takes tremendous patience.  It takes consistency.  And it takes a commitment.  Sometimes, we even have to threaten with a consequence.  You know, “do you want to go out and wait in the car?”  But remember, you must be ready to carry out the threat or it’s not effective!  We have, in fact, taken a child out to the car and sat there.  Carry out such a threat just once and it will work for a lifetime!  But more on that in a future blog…

Until then, give it a shot.  Take the kids out to dinner.  Leave the electronics at home.  Talk.  Teach.  Eat. Be Patient.  And let them see that dining out can be fun!

Song Pairing:  “It’s Fun To Be Good” (click sample to the right)