So how do you teach a kid to behave in a restaurant?
The uproar over the recent story by our colleague Laura Reiley about the pizza place in Seminole Heights that banned children from its back patio and posted strongly worded signs inside to keep the kids quiet or face ejection brought out a host of comments. Most of them were along the lines of "Parents need to make their kids behave!" That's much easier said than done when you have a toddler. As parents weathering the Terrible Twos well know, trying to "make" them do anything is sure to bring on a screaming, kicking, howling tantrum that draws the pointed stares from those around you. Pointed is too mild. Daggers!
We stopped going to restaurants for a few years when our kids were that age. We got takeout or a sitter. That was the very sage advice I received from my pediatrician when I asked why it is my friend who goes out several times a week had such a wonderfully behaved toddler and I couldn't keep mine in his seat or occupied while we tried to eat. Her answer "What the heck are you doing taking an 18 month old to a restaurant? It's not fair to expect him to sit for 30 minutes and it's stressful for you to jump through hoops entertaining him. Get takeout or get a sitter and try again when he's older" I love that woman.
But still, learning to behave well in public is a skill like any other that has to be taught. Here's what we did (thanks to the many moms and aunts I called on for advice) and it worked beautifully.
Tell them what TO do, instead of what NOT to do: Toddlers and young kids can sometimes latch on to the negative, so if you say "No running around," that suddenly seems like the most awesome idea ever. So focus on what they can do by saying things like "Use your inside voice," and "Stay in your seat" and "Wait until you are done chewing to talk" Notice I didn't say "No shouting, no running and no talking with your mouth full" The positive approach gets better results with ours.
Practice table manners at home: Enforce the same rules at home that you would at a restaurant. If they act up take them to their room and tell them they can return to join the family at the table when they can behave.
Do some practice runs: When you think they are ready, plan a trip to a restaurant that you fully intend to leave if you have to. This is a training mission, not an anniversary dinner. Head to a kid-friendly place and before you even go in, spell out the rules: Stay in your seat, use an inside voice, respect the things around you, etc. Tell them if they don't behave you will be leaving the restaurant because only people with good manners are allowed to stay there.
Three strikes and you are out: Once inside if he throws food or starts to throw a fit over something, I wisk him outside fairly quickly saying "Oh no, you can't be in here if you behave like that." The change of scenery is a good attention-getter. Then we go over the rules again and I wait for him to calm down and I say "Do you think you can behave well enough to go back in again? Yes? OK, let's give it another try but you can't stay here if you act up." This usually did the trick. But if he acted up again, I repeated the same move and I never let it get out of hand. The second he acts up --- Boom -- you are outside. This was Strike 2 and I would warn that if he did it again, we were going home. Only once did I ever get to Strike 3 and I said, "I see you have chosen to go home. We'll try again some other time when you can behave better." He howled the whole way home and never did it again. (We use this same method to teach store manners to toddlers)
The Cappy's Pizza owner told tales of parents who just seemed to check out when they got to his place, uprooting flower pots and breaking wall decorations. Kids got away with stuff they'd never do at home. It could be the parents are as rude as the children, or it could be that some parents just don't know what to do when they are in public with a misbehaving child.
So tell me mamas, what literally did you say and do to teach your child restaurant manners?
--Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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