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How to get your kids to behave in a restaurant

After news of a Poulsbo, Washington restaurant manager’s surprising “well-behaved children” discount for a family of five with three young children made national news, more parents began to sit up and take notice of how important ensuring their kids’ good behaviour while dining out really is. As those same parents know, however, conquering the battle of good table manners and indoor voices in a high-end restaurant isn’t always easy. If you have dreams of having a top-notch dining experience with your brood in tow, there are measures you can take to help ensure that they behave well.

Work on manners at home
If your kids have a clear understanding of good table manners from their experiences at home, they’ll have an easier time applying them when they’re dining in a restaurant. While it’s tempting to make family dinners more relaxed and casual, they’re a great opportunity to teach younger children about dining etiquette. Older children can understand the difference between appropriate public dining behavior and the more casual rules at home, but younger ones may need more consistency in order to absorb the rules of eating in public.

Practice, practice
Kids love to play make-believe, so an old fashioned game of Let’s Pretend might be just the tool you need to help your child learn the basics of dining etiquette. When she’s engaging in active play that stimulates her imagination as well as teaches her new skills, she’s more likely to be receptive to those things than she would be if she was being dully lectured. Work with your child in a way that she understands and speak her language. Making a game of learning table manners will not only help you impart basic social skills, it will also allow you to spend some enjoyable quality time with your children.

Choose your restaurant carefully
Regardless of how well-trained your children are when it comes to good table manners, they will almost certainly struggle if they’re in an overly-stimulating environment. On the same token, five-star dining with linen tablecloths may be a bit too sedate to suit preschoolers. Kids are also notoriously picky, meaning that a child who subsists solely off of chicken nuggets and grapes will almost certainly rebel when confronted with asparagus and escargot. Even exceptionally well-behaved children are likely to contemplate mutiny when they’re in an uncomfortable environment, are forced to eat food they don’t like and aren’t allowed to have any fun. When your children are young, sticking to more family-friendly establishments with a moderate level of activity is generally the best choice.

Talk about inside voices
Little ones may not automatically understand the idea of using their “indoor voice” when they’re in a restaurant. Working with your child to help her understand the importance of speaking at an acceptable volume can make a noticeable difference in the way your table is treated when you’re at a restaurant.

Enforce neatness and cleanliness
Getting food into a toddler’s mouth without her wearing most of it is a challenge, but the other diners around you and the restaurant staff are more likely to treat you with respect when she’s not smearing condiments in her hair or finger-painting with the salad dressing. Making sure that your child understands about neatness and that you’re dedicated to helping her maintain an acceptable level of it is one of the most important parts of mastering restaurant-appropriate behaviour.

Keep your trip short
No matter how much time you spend working with your child to ensure proper restaurant behaviour, she will eventually reach her breaking point. For very young children, anything more than about 45 minutes is just asking for trouble. Even a child that’s normally well-behaved and has been thoroughly coached will probably start to struggle if she’s forced to sit through appetizers and post-dessert coffee, so it’s best to save the leisurely meals for nights when you have a sitter.

Refuse to reinforce bad habits
If your child simply will not behave in a restaurant despite your best efforts, refuse to reinforce his bad behaviour by no longer allowing him to accompany you. When your child understand that his actions in a restaurant were unacceptable and have cost him the privilege of dining with the grownups next time, he’s more likely to make an effort to behave when you offer him a second chance. Don’t allow him to run around the restaurant, no matter how much energy he has, and never accept outright rude behaviour like throwing food or deliberate spilling things. Not only will you be teaching good dining etiquette, the restaurant staff and your fellow diners will thank you.