This topic comes up all the time! Tell me you haven’t discussed this with your friends. When I was talking to my friends about developing different children’s etiquette classes, I heard this idea more than once. We talk about “restaurant training” with a little bit of a wink. It’s that goal we have for our children, but I think most of us know that the unpredictable 4-year-old can give you a run for your money, no matter how many times you’ve taught him how to behave.
Because the truth is there are many times when eating out at a restaurant with children is neither easy nor relaxing. So many factors come into play. Did they nap today? Who took whose favorite Lego ship in the car? Who spent all afternoon at a play-date and is now completely exhausted and grumpy? Who doesn’t like the food smells coming from the table next to yours? I could go on and on. Point is, we’ve all had highs and lows. I’ve come away from a 2-hour dinner so exceptionally proud of mine, and I’ve also left a 25-minute dinner with my kids in complete meltdowns so exhausting that I bee-lined straight for a glass of wine. How many times can they drop the crayons under the table?! Why do they always need to go to the bathroom when the food arrives? And why do they randomly wander out of their seats for no reason? (If you’re shaking your head puzzled at any of this because it doesn’t happen to you, you probably have girls;)
But here’s the deal, hang in there and KEEP AT IT! You are teaching your child valuable life skills that will benefit them now, on their first date, and at their first job. With repetition and reminding, it will sink in, and your child will stun you into total glee by placing his napkin in his lap first thing, using the right utensil at the right time and ordering so politely from the waiter you almost tear up. And yes, even your 4-year-old can do all of that.
So with that said, “restaurant training” really begins at home…
· Have Dinner Together!
We have to start here, right? Having dinner together at home around the table presents those flexible teaching moments. Using family dinners at home as teachable opportunities is just smart, and helps set up your children to understand what kind of expectations you have around a dinner table, no matter where that dinner table may be. I’ll talk more about how and what to teach in another blog, or you can always email me to set up a lesson, I love talking table manners. And you’d be surprised how much your child enjoys it too! Children want to know expectations and do a great job, they want to please you, and they don’t want to feel confused or embarrassed.
Also, besides the impact it has on your child’s ability to successfully manage a dinner out and about or even at grandmother’s house, there have been numerous studies on the benefits of having a family meal together. Studies showing everything from performing better academically in school to staying out of trouble outside of school. We talk about giving our children the gift of good manners, because it really is a gift for their entire life. But by having dinner we’re also giving them the gift of our time and attention. That’s priceless.
· Technology stays put away
I don’t compromise on this in my home or at a restaurant. The cell phones stay in purses or pockets. The iPads are put away. At home, I leave my cell phone in a completely different room where I can’t hear it or be tempted by it if it dings. Our dinners at home typically last all of 25-minutes because I have 3 young boys and that is about their attention span. If that’s the same for you, for that short, precious time try leaving all of your phones in another room and just focusing on the people around your dinner table. I often keep my phone close by all day long because I worry what if the school calls and needs me for one of the boys. But at the dinner table, with everyone there, I can just disconnect and put it away. I could teach an entire class on etiquette tips and tricks for technology with children (and will be doing so soonJ.) Try it tonight, when you’re at home or a restaurant, put it all away and see how your child responds to your direct attention for 30-minutes. You’re teaching your child how to behave without technological distractions, how to be patient and wait for their dinner, and how to improve their social interaction etiquette at a table.
Side note: I’ll write more on this later in another post, but when at a restaurant, I always pack a bag of crayons, coloring books, building blocks, legos, etc. Sometimes our conversations revolve around what the kids are coloring, and that’s okay!!
· Let Them Set the Table
I know how incredibly basic this sounds, but it works. Want to teach them which fork to use when they sit down at a restaurant or which water glass is theirs? Have them help set the table at home, and they will get it in a snap. If you’re worried about them carrying glasses or dishes, just set everything they need on the dinner table, but have them actually set it up at each place setting.
· Clear the Table and Help with Dishes
This is an important part of behaving at a restaurant, because it teaches them to be considerate and respectful of the wait staff clearing their plates. If they’ve had to take dishes off the table and to the sink at home, they will look up more and realize when someone is doing it for them. This is essential to instilling etiquette in your children – noticing and appreciating what others are doing for them, and saying “thank you!” Don’t say “thank you” on behalf of your children, they can and should do it themselves. Eventually the goal is for them to clear dishes at home for you without you even having to ask – talk about good manners!
· Allow Your Child to Order for Himself
Your child can do this as soon as they learn to talk. Teach them to say “please” when ordering their meal and “thank you” once the waiter has acknowledged their order. They should also say “thank you” anytime the waiter brings them something or delivers their food. The same as above, this teaches your child kindness and consideration for the person who is waiting on them, and also makes them practice key conversation skills including speaking up, looking the person in the eye and using those magic manner words of “please” and “thank you.”
· Participate in Conversation
Don’t let them off the hook on this. You will only help your child if you teach them at a young age how to be a considerate member of a dinner conversation. So many etiquette skills are involved…not interrupting, saying excuse me, speaking directly to another person and looking him or her in the eye while doing so. And those are just a small few. If you help them be counted and considered in the dinner table conversation, it just may make your time at a restaurant a lot more pleasant on both ends. Not to mention you learn more about your child’s day.