This stress-free guide to eating out with toddlers could be a short article. The simple answer for many parents is to simply not do it!
We all know toddlers are unpredictable, often tired and unmanageable as a result, and have smaller attention spans than older kids, but there are great ways to navigate table service with a little one in tow. And they don't all resort to whipping out the phone and sticking on YouTube (although, hands up, we've all done this! #NoJudgement). Here are some FFHQ tips on bringing a toddler to a restaurant.
Manage Your Expectations
Lingering over a coffee and a tiramisu after a three-course meal is likely to not be on the cards if a toddler is sitting between you and your other half, hitting the high chair table like the drummer from AC/DC. And that is okay. Eating out with kids will not be the same as dating or reading the Sunday papers before kids in your favourite coffee shop. It's best to manage our expectations about what a meal out with kids will be like.
Our kids' behaviour can be challenging at times, and in public spaces we can react rather than respond to their behaviour for fear of being judged, upsetting other patrons, or not being able to control them. But control is not the issue here. Kids will be kids, and we can't expect them to act like adults in grown-up situations. They will get bored, fidget, or upset if their chips fall to the floor. This is normal behaviour which doesn't require scolding but rather understanding.
A family-orientated restaurant will not only relieve any tension you have about eating out with kids as you know they may expect crying, tantrums, spilt drinks, and uneaten food. Once the venue is suitable, you can choose a time when your little one is not overtired, is hungry, and is more willing to sit pleasantly for a while. And if all else fails, be prepared to make a quick exit if necessary.
Encouraging our kids to behave requires connecting with them and making them a part of the experience. The days of gentle conversation over long meals are put on hold when our kids join the table, but a meal with a toddler in a restaurant is a great opportunity to connect with them. We can play games and have conversations with our kids while waiting for the food to arrive. The best way to do this is to bring it down to their level. Play eye spy with colours instead of letters for younger kids, choose topics of conversation that interests the little one, like what is their favourite superpower, and play finger wars to keep them entertained.
Don't let other patrons alter your experience of eating out with your toddler. The reactions, comments, and glances from other people when your child cries or gets upset can be difficult but don't let them sway you from looking after your child and enjoying family time.