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How to Survive Dining Out With Your Kids

3 2 thank you! 5 c’s ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years choices & checkpoints consequences discipline eating routines Aug 10, 2023

How would you like a break from prepping dinner tonight?  Let somebody else do the cooking for a change - and the dishes too.  Take the family out to your favorite local family-friendly restaurant.  If you just felt your heart rate increase and your eyes start bulging at the thought of dining out with your family, fear not; you are not alone.  Taking the kids out to eat isn’t always easy, but it can become a much more enjoyable and eagerly anticipated experience using my psychology-based parenting tips.  You should be able to take a break from the kitchen and do that without adding extra stress to your day.

Today I want to do something fun to show you how the 5 C’s (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting) can be directly applied to everyday situations you encounter as a parent.  Some of you may have learned about my weekly Tips through a free download I developed called How to Make Dining Out With Your Children Enjoyable.  If that doesn’t sound familiar, definitely take a second to download that valuable guide here now.  Whether it’s your first time seeing these tips or you’ve been implementing them in your parenting practice for months already, today’s post will take your understanding of the 5 C’s to a whole new level.

If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, this guide is packed with useful tips to help make dining out with your children a more enjoyable experience.  It’s broken down into steps you can take before, during, and after the dining out event to help on that day and on future trips.  Did you know we can easily reorganize the steps into the 5 C’s categories: Communication, Consistency, Choices & Checkpoints, Consequences, and Check Yourself? 

Communication: Set yourself up for success by clearly communicating expectations for the dining out experience.  Say something like, “We need to use our soft voices, stay seated in our chairs, and have good manners.”  Let them know details of what to expect, like, “We’re just going to order water with our meals, but let’s behave really well so we can stay long enough to enjoy a fun dessert.”  

If your child ever uses your phone or other electronic devices, be sure it’s clear what the rules are for dining out.  Our family chooses to use no electronics at restaurants so we can focus on it being a social experience together, but some families prefer to allow phones - perhaps for a specified period, like between when you order and when the food arrives.  Whatever you decide, make the protocol clear in advance and stick with it.

At the restaurant and on the ride home, use positive reinforcement to praise your child’s good behavior.  You might say, “Great job ordering your own meal.”  Or, “I loved hearing you say please when you ordered and thank you when your food arrived.”  Or, “Look how calmly you’re sitting in your chair tonight.”

Consistency: Kids thrive on consistency.  Consider making dining out a regular part of your weekly schedule, and you’ll find that they fall into a rhythm and really step up their behavior.  Our family eats out one night every weekend.  

Keep in mind these can be budget-friendly restaurant choices.  As they get older, getting the kids involved in choosing the restaurant gives everyone something to look forward to.

Choices & Checkpoints: Keep an eye on your child’s behavior but don’t stress too much.  A little loud noise or a little whining can be ignored, or you can offer a gentle reminder about appropriate behavior at a restaurant.  You want them to behave like little angels, but you have to keep your expectations reasonable for their developmental level. 

What should you do if your child misbehaves at the restaurant?  Communicate Choices.  If poor behavior escalates, let your child know they need to stop yelling/crying/hitting/etc. or you will take them outside until they can calm down and behave appropriately.  You might say, “You need to stop yelling, or I am going to have to take you out of the restaurant to calm down.”  If the unwanted behavior continues, begin your countdown (see 3, 2, Thank You!).  Hopefully, the countdown will end with, “Thank You!” but if you get to 1, then that brings us to…

Consequences: Follow through with consequences.  Calmly escort your child outside until they have regained their composure and agree to return back to the restaurant under the condition that there will be no more of the problem behavior.  You can gently pick them up if need be.  You do not want the rest of the restaurant to suffer, and you want your child to learn what behavior is appropriate at a restaurant and what is not.  

It was pretty funny recently when I had all four of my kids out at a restaurant for lunch, and a young child was being quite loud at a nearby table.  My kids have had plenty of difficult dining out experiences over the years, but they are getting older and much more reliably well-behaved now, and it was entertaining hearing them talk about how their dining out experience was negatively impacted by the young child’s behavior.  If you have a child being quite loud, I would recommend taking a break outside the restaurant with them. 

Keep it positive while you’re out on a break.  Tell them you love them and know they can behave well enough to return to the fun meal.  Ask a silly question to lighten the mood, like, “What color do you think my pasta will be?”

Of note, throughout the meal, you can use the prompt, “Remember you need to have good behavior to stay for dessert,” to encourage good behavior, but only say, “We can’t stay for dessert unless you have good behavior” if you actually plan to take away dessert in response to bad behavior.  The promise of dessert is usually enough to keep kids behaving well.  Plus, you want to build the learned association between dining out and fun.  The treat of having dessert really adds to the fun, so I’d focus on dessert essentially being guaranteed, with the exception of seriously bad behavior.

Check Yourself: Roll with the punches.  If your kid falls off their chair or tips the whole chair over, pick it right back up and continue.  If a drink tips over, stand it back up and get out a napkin to mop up the mess.  Don’t freak out; just offer a gentle reminder of appropriate behavior.  If their voices start getting too loud, calmly remind the kids to lower their voices.  A hand gesture like a flat palm moving downward can help.  Communicate with your child the reasons for your requests, like, “The guests at other tables have a hard time focusing on their own conversations when we are so loud.” 

This is a great opportunity to utilize some of the Coping Skills for Adults that I teach in the Check Yourself module of my full course.  In the meantime, practice staying calm by taking one slow, deep breath before responding to any disruptions.  Remind yourself that the rest of the patrons are less concerned about your child’s behavior than you are - except for extreme noise.  Most people think little kids are adorable.  Rather than judging you for any embarrassing moments, they are likely feeling compassion - and joy that they’re not in your situation!  And the server has definitely seen worse behavior before.  Just plan to tip well, and all will be fine.  

Now you know how the 5 C’s can be applied to everyday situations you encounter in your parenting practice.  Look for more posts like this one coming regularly as we cycle through specific parenting tools in each of the 5 C’s categories and then circle back to this idea of the 5 C’s as overarching concepts you can apply to your parenting.  Remember to download my freebie, How to Make Dining Out With Your Children Enjoyable, if you haven’t already.  And this week, give yourself a break from the cooking and the dishes and support your favorite local restaurant - just be sure to choose one where everyone can feel relaxed.  Start small by utilizing a few of the tips from my Dining Out guide, and add more each time you dine out.  You’ll be amazed at how much more enjoyable your family experience becomes! 

To view more posts discussing the 5 C’s concepts and applying them to everyday parenting situations, select the 5 C’s from the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey! 

P.S. If you’re looking for some inspiration on easy-to-carry toys to keep your young ones entertained while you’re waiting for your meal to arrive, check out my Treasures - Dining Out page.  I have a whole category of products to help make your restaurant experience more enjoyable.


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