Dining with Small Children

Who loves going out to dinner?! I think it’s probably our favorite form of entertainment and we didn’t want it to end just because we had a baby. We have always tried to follow three rules – enjoy ourselves (kids too!), teach our kids how to conduct themselves in public, and don’t ruin anyone else’s time.  We got pretty good at this, and I’ll fill you in in a moment.

It’s not very fun to see families with very little kids, like 5 and under, out in restaurants nowadays. So many times parents are on their phones ignoring kids who are trying to express themselves or just get a little attention. Or parents are talking to each other and not to their children. Or children mid-meltdown scream loudly while their parents seem to be oblivious. I know this isn’t always the case, but it happens a lot.

Right from the start we set the stage for many successful future dinners out. Mia was in an infant carrier, and we were ready to entertain (by talking to her or with bright toys) or nurse when the need arose. Any crying that couldn’t be tamed in a few seconds and either my husband or I took her for a walk outside to soothe her and NOT interrupt the other guests. 

About the time when  Mia turned one we discovered a very useful friend – the portable DVD player. iPads were not yet invented, but this little DVD player was a godsend! No, we didn’t sit her in front of it and ignore her. We included her in conversation, made sure she got to sample lots of yummy food, and had little toys for her to play with. But little attention spans are short and enjoyable dinners out need to last longer than 15 minutes. So we had various DVDs from the Baby Einstein collection on hand for entertainment. I know some of you are shaking your heads at us and condemning this screen time. But we believe there is a time and place for screen time as entertainment, and it isn’t always mindless (as in the case of Baby Einstein). 

By the time Mia and Ben were preschool/toddler age, they were into the going out to restaurants and were lots of fun to be with. While we brought coloring books and small toys, we also continued to bring our reliable portable DVD player and a favorite DVD or two for them to watch if they started to get antsy and we weren’t quite finished. Yes, there were a few times either Mia or Ben were a little too loud or upset about something. We didn’t just sit there and pretend this disturbance wasn’t happening, or ask them over and over to be quiet while not actually doing anything. Example: One time at dinner 4 year old Mia was upset about something Ben had that she wanted, most likely a baby toy that she wasn’t interested in before, but decided she wanted. David took her by the hand outside to talk and told her that if she wanted to go back in for dinner she needed to be respectful and use her inside voice. If she did this, she could have a turn with the toy. It worked! It sounds too easy but if you talk with your kids like they are little adults and give them clear choices, they usually get it.

We were blessed with pretty amazing kids, and this only happened a few times and then they just got that there was an appropriate – and an inappropriate – way to act in a restaurant.  Dining out with our now teenager and young adult is actually so much fun for us! It’s a great way to share meaningful conversation, eat delicious food and stay connected.

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