Some would say, one of the hardest things about having young children, is eating out in public. Parents are often concerned about their child’s behaviour in restaurants such as running around, talking loudly, or having a meltdown. Patrons and staff in the restaurant may see these behaviours as ‘disruptive’ and parents may feel embarrassed or find it difficult to deal with these situations.

It is difficult for some children to manage their emotions in busy public places due to excitement, social anxiety, sensory overload (e.g. too many people, loud noises, smells from the kitchen, lighting and background music), being out of their comfort zone or simply a change in their regular routine.

Here are some tips for taking children to restaurants to eat:

  • Mentally prepare your child ahead of time by telling them you are going to “x” restaurant
  • Engage your child in calm and relaxing activities beforehand so they are not exhausted
  • Give your child small snacks either before you arrive at the restaurant or while waiting for the food to minimise waiting time
  • Bring along your child’s favourite food from home if necessary
  • Be aware of sensory overload as it may trigger behavioural problems. Be prepared for any behavioural problems may happen
  • Choose restaurants that are child-friendly. If not, bring a ‘restaurant bag’ with a small drawing pad, crayons or markers, puzzles and brain-teaser games and books
  • Screen time is one of the best reinforcers and distractors. Make sure you limit the time and use it wisely
  • Practise the whole ‘eating out’ experience at home and go over good table manners with your child and how they can be rewarded if they show good table manners
  • Choose a restaurant renowned for fast service or tell the server you’re in a rush. Stay at your child’s side at all times and be sure to tell them if you need to step away from the table
  • You can take short walks around the restaurant and look at decorations, visit the bathroom

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and you should not feel bad about it. If your child’s behaviour meltdown escalates or continues, it’s time to take your battle home.