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Toddlers in restaurants

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GaudeMariaVirgo:
Hello all! I was wondering if you had any advice/experience with taking toddlers/younger children to restaurants, how to encourage good behavior, and how to enjoy the experience as a family.

We've started taking our 3- and 1-year-olds out to eat more often (during COVID in Chicago we didn't get much practice with this). Most (okay, all) restaurants in our town are what I can only describe as "child-friendly business casual;" you see well-behaved children & families there, & the restaurants have kids' menus, but you'll also see couples on dates, groups of young people for happy hour, business lunches etc -- so, a mixed clientele.

While our kids are both pretty well behaved, they're quite young and have the typical fidgety/fussy behaviors that come with that age group, which leads to me & my husband micromanaging a lot (especially the one-year-old, who's grabby around silverware), getting stressed out about "appearances," and leaving relatively early. I've heard anecdotally that children can do fine in restaurants with the right training and tricks (at least, that's what the French parenting books say  ;)) and was wondering if those of you with families have any suggestions in this area! We'd like for our family to enjoy "typical" restaurant experiences (within reason) and also keep our children well behaved/courteous around other customers. What's a reasonable standard to expect from this age group in restaurants, and are we being too ambitious/controlling?

Thanks all!!

Jayne:
This stage is pretty far in the past for me, but it's a great question so I'll attempt to answer.  You will probably get more details from those currently "in the trenches".

I would have minimal expectations for a 1 year old and focus more on distracting than training at that age.  I like an ice cube in a high chair tray for that purpose.  Any mess it makes just dries itself out.

The 3 year old is the key.  When one trains the oldest child, it is an investment in all one's other children, both current and future.  Children learn a lot from older siblings, perhaps more than by any other means.

A 3 year old will probably benefit from playing restaurant at home.  Have the child help putting on a table cloth and doing a formal table setting.  Take turns being the waiter and the customer.  Add some dolls/ stuffed animals for additional characters.  Pay with play money, if you have some. This gives you a situation to teach about expectations for behaviour without the pressure (or expense) of doing so at a real restaurant.

GaudeMariaVirgo:
Those are great suggestions, Jayne, thank you!

MundaCorMeum:
Honestly, at this point, your entire parenting career consists of micromanaging.  It will pay off in the long run, though.  What are meals like at home?  Do y'all sit down as a family for most meals (even when Dad is at work, Mom and kids can do this)?  Are the kids expected to sit in their spots to eat and behave during the meal?  By behave, that means being relatively quiet and no throwing of food.  They should stay in their spot and not constantly get up and down or run around.  WHEN they attempt to break these rules, you have to consistently and patiently redirect them and remind them of said rules. Be prepared to issue consequences the older they get. It takes time for that to set in.  It's not reasonable to expect very young children to have impeccable table manners, but it is reasonable to expect parents to be on guard to remind them and show them how to behave every time they slip up.  If you go to a restaurant expecting some kind of picture perfect experience, you will be let down every.single.time.  Go to a restaurant expecting to help the children practice good behavior, both by your correction and example.  If you want a peaceful meal out of the house, hire a babysitter  :cheeseheadbeer:

MundaCorMeum:
Something else that has been part of our family life, and other families appreciate and notice when our kids are at other people's homes... Train your kids to ask after a meal, "May I be excused?". When given and positive answer, they should respond with, 'thank up for dinner (or breakfast or lunch)", then proceed to clear their spot and push in their chair.  It goes a very long way in training children in gratitude and self-discipline, even when it may get tedious for parents with a houseful of kids to hear that 8 times a day for each meal.

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