In my chapter ‘Going Out and About with Your Baby’, you can read a little on eating out as a family. With a little work at the start, you will soon be enjoying family meals out. The younger your child is, the easier it is to eat out. Babies just sit in the buggy and sleep or watch you. However, when they get to toddler age, it becomes trickier. We eat out every week as a family, even if it’s just for breakfast in the park café. People often comment on how fortunate I am to have such behaved kids, but it’s not just by chance! It is all about not giving up and making the effort to eat out, even at times when I think it would just be so much easier to eat at home. You need to get out of the house and not take the easy option. With a little preparation, you will be fine.
If you follow my advice to leave your child to get bored and occupy themselves regularly, they should be able to sit at the table and play with whatever toys you have brought with you. You must be realistic too. Any more than an hour and a half, and they will start to get restless, so ensure that you have plenty of supplies. Go to child friendly places, where they are used to children. Most places will even have crayons and paper to colour in a picture, while they wait for the food to come.
With the food, I would order for the kids straight away with the drinks order. This means that the kids food will come out quickly. They will generally eat much slower than me and if they finish before me, they like to share/taste my food. If the kids start playing up while I’m still eating my dinner, I will say ‘if you are very good and draw me another picture, I will get us an ice-cream to share’, this is usually enough to keep them going a bit longer. Then you can ask for the bill when you order the ice-cream, so that you are ready to go when you want.
If they do start to play up after an hour or so, getting a stranger involved works. I have on occasion said,‘see that man? If you don’t keep quiet, he’s going to come over here and ask us to leave, then you are going straight to your bed’. This also shows that they need to think about other people when they are out and about.
The consistent effort that you put in to keeping your child well behaved in public places, will eventually pay off. You will suddenly realise that you can go out and enjoy a family meal, while your friends are wondering how on earth you do it. It’s no magic trick, just consistency. The younger children will learn from the older ones, so the older one will always be the hardest but it gets easier from then on.