eating out

How to Thrive While Eating Out with Children

If there’s one thing our family has loads of practice in while traveling, it’s eating out at restaurants. Yet, I’ve found the number one place most families fear taking their kids most is to a restaurant with their children.

I imagine it’s because a few things are happening…
1.) They fear (or know) their children will not be able to act according to societal standards of eating out.
2.) They fear they’ll be judged for it.
3.) They don’t want to negotiate or deal with the age appropriate tantrums or outbursts, so they’d prefer to avoid it.

GracieFamilyRestaurant

Here are ways to thrive while eating out with children:

  1. Plan to go to restaurants before their actual mealtime. Part of the meltdowns that happen for children at restaurants is that they arrive hungry. Children (and adults) have a hard time waiting when this resource is low, so arriving or scheduling dinner plans at a time before they actual get hungry is highly beneficial!

  2. Bring activities or request the coloring options. Most restaurants are hip to the power of coloring books and activities while the children wait for their food, but traveling we have found that many restaurants don’t invest in this perk. This is something we carry with us, especially if we know we will be going to a restaurant ahead of time. Worst case, ask the server for a paper and pen and play tic tac toe or hangman! Coloring with your children can be calming for both you and the kids. We also use fun games like ‘I spy’ where one person describes the color of something they can see and the others have to guess it. We also enjoy telling childhood stories or making up new ones. Sometimes we play pretend and let them take our order! The creativity is endless.

  3. Include children in the conversations! This seems to be the toughest for most families and the least likely done. Many times, it’s the adults who have chosen to gather, so children aren’t necessarily friends or they don’t have the practice of engaging in the realm of a restaurant. I recently heard my older daughter tell my younger at a restaurant, “Let’s talk sissy!” And they began conversing in ways adults do. The children want to be included, but it may feel like the conversation is either not child appropriate, not inclusive or that they won’t be heard if they asked a question or insert a thought. Find ways to include your children on the socialization and they will enjoy eating out much more. You can also spend some extra time with your child before the outing so they’ve had time to connect, before they feel you transition to connect with others.

  4. Turn off the electronics. I know many use electronics as a digital crutch that helps us have adult conversations that many of us parents who spend so much of their time in isolation are craving! But I can tell you now, distracting your children during times of communication and missing opportunities to model behavior at a restaurant will leave this phase continuing beyond the time frame that you want. We have a strict no technology at the table rule and we think this is a crucial one. Children don’t need to be distracted with devices, many times they just need or want to be integrated into the conversation. The sooner they learn how, the sooner the restaurant trips are more pleasant. Devices aren’t all bad, but saving them for the most crucial times is clutch!

  5. Validate their experience. Waiting can be boring, annoying, difficult. Restaurants can be loud, over stimulating, uncomfortable. Tuning into the atmosphere and your child’s honest experience and perception will help to offer some fair validation of what they’re feeling. This validation will help your little humans feel heard and understood. This feeling has the potential to bring down the stress levels and overwhelm to find calm in this environment. Once calm, you can redirect them to coloring, a friendly chat or point out things about the ambience.

  6. Avoid micromanaging their food consumption. It can feel quite embarrassing and disempowering for a child to be corrected and demanded of in front of family friends or new guests. This can bring up unrecognizable frustrations in your child and can be the seed for some unwanted behavior as well. When ordering with then, have a private conversation on what their options are and allow them to journey on with their food in peace. A simple, “How is your food?” or “Do you feel satisfied?” is enough to determine whether they are still hungry or not.

  7. The post food mood. We have all had the feeling of over consumption that leads us to lean back and want to rest our heads. Many children are still getting in tune with their bodies and will have many times where they miscalculate their intake and get into a post food mood. Possibly ready to go before others, or needing to run it off a bit. This is normal and may find a stark contrast to the parents post food mood, which may still be in conversation and connection mode. Dealing with this difference can be a bit tricky, but negotiating a bit for each side is fair. Some days, you honor the child, others you can request the child understand your want to connect with your friends more. ( allowing children to leave their seat and move around the table and take our order)

  8. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you have to experience it to get better at it. Children are authentic and spontaneous creatures of beauty, so the domestication of their spirits to conform to collective restaurant experience is truly understanding how to allow them to be them in an environment that may be asking for something different. Each experience at a restaurant is room for the beautiful reminder that this is a temporary space in which we are choosing to play a game with the rules of the restaurant… that we sit, get waited on, communicate, connect, eat, maybe wait some more, then leave. Give realistic expectations helps to nurture the understanding and giving them the option to exist amongst this with full awareness that they do not have to conform by dropping their soul, but understanding the rules of this game, is key.

I truly enjoy eating out with family and friends and truly enjoy sharing this with you!

Do you have any additional ways that you help your child thrive in restaurant environments? Leave them in the comments below!

Talk to Me.

My children can understand everything… and so can yours. 

I try not to have conversations about my daughter in front of her without letting her know that we both know who I’m speaking about. I don’t speak about her as if she can’t hear me and I don’t appreciate it when others do either. 

“your daughter is so well behaved”
“thank you, feel free to tell her yourself.”

“your daughter really speaks well for her age.”
“thank you, would you mind telling her that?” 

I am flattered and in awe of the lovely things that parents say to one another about their children and I realize at times it’s an attempt to start conversations with other parents and find a common ground, but I would love it if those parents could also direct those comments to the person they are speaking about, and I imagine my daughter would love it to!

Similarly, I find it to be “poor form” to talk about a child’s downfalls, mishaps, etc right in front of them. If they were adults, you would never see people doing this, but for some reason it’s okay with children?? My mind is boggled that we don’t recognize that children can hear, understand and comprehend the things we are discussing about them… and then break conversation to tell them how to do something or to stop doing something. Including your children in conversations about them will only help their greater understanding of themselves and how to converse with others. 

I find myself quite often at the dinner table with a guest or my husband, talking about something that happened that day, only to be interrupted by my two year old daughter by either, “Talk to me mama,” or “Tell a story about a big boy and the big girl…” I quickly realized that I was treating her as if she couldn’t comprehend what I was saying and even worse, leaving her out of the conversation. Cue old saying of parents telling the children, “Do not speak unless spoken to…” Ugh, I hate even typing that. I realized quickly that it’s so important to keep your child engaged. How would you feel at a table if everyone talked around you and never included you? It’s no wonder so many children feel the need to go down the dark rabbit hole of cell phones and ipads.

Children are constantly suppressed in this large world and look at as incapable or too young, but are we just giving them that title or doing things to keep them at that level? The number of families I see eating out at restaurants with all four kids on iPads is fascinating. There is no judgement here as I have many times needed to use my trusted iPad buddy to allow myself some moments of sanity… it’s the constant use of this, the true replacement of teaching your child to be present and communicating with other humans… of CONNECTING. 

How can we as parents expect our children to learn how to connect with others when we haven’t connected with them or shown them how to connect with us.

Challenge yourself to take your children out to dinner, like you would another couple, and talk to them freely. Speak to them and not just about them. Learn to have everyone have a pause or moment of brief silence. Ask them about things that intrigue them. Tell them jokes and make them laugh. Play rock, paper, scissors while you wait. Do a magic trick or have them show you one. Still assist in the parental duties if they are throwing food or limits are need, but bounce right back to connecting. Show them how to connect, how to love and interact in a way that will behoove them with others but most importantly, with you.

I invite you to connect with me and leave your experiences on how you feel about the way others may connect with your children or how you've become successful at connecting with your own. 

Gratitude & Love
~Victoria Gracie~