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When dining out, every parent knows its a tall order to keep kids in their seats, napkins on their laps, utensils in hand, and speaking in an inside voice while behaving politely. In this way, restaurants are like a public stage for your parenting skills. When my son acted up at restaurants, I worried if nearby diners would question my parenting abilities or my wisdom in taking my little one out to eat. Feeling embarrassed, I wondered how I could ensure this wouldnt happen again. Here are 10 simple things (I learned the hard way) that parents can do to help their kids learn table manners.
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1: Start at home
When your little one spews half-chewed mashed potatoes all over your kitchen, let her know that walls arent meant for wearing veggies. Make it clear that there are better ways to communicate that youre done eating, such as No, thank you or May I be excused from the table?
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2: Go to kid-friendly restaurants
Personally, whenever we go to fast food restaurants, Im in duck-and-cover mode: I fully expect chicken nuggets or French fries to be lobbed at my head. When it comes to kid-friendly establishments, I think most people are on board with my keep-your-eyes-peeled-for-incoming-rounds wariness. When your kids are little, these are safe environments for them to learn in (and youll be safe from judging eyes).
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3: Set expectations before going out
Whether youre going to Burger Town or to Grandmas house, make sure your kids understand what behavior you expect from them. Specify consequences for good and bad behavior. A consequence for good behavior may be the opportunity to have dessert, and a consequence for bad behavior may be going home mid-meal and subsequently being denied a bedtime story.
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4: Tire them out before leaving
Choose activities that will lead to calm during your dining experience. Depending on the kid, this could be running around the exterior of the house three times or reading a book about good little kittens (with table manners). However you achieve it, calm kids are better-behaved kids.
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5: Bring entertainment
Kids often perceive dining in restaurants as a long and tedious experience. (How many of us have heard, "CAN WE GO YET?!") Nip these doldrums in the bud by packing silent toys and games like puzzle or coloring books thatll hold your kids interest.
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6: Ask them questions
If theyre up for it, try starting conversations with your kids that involve their participation and imagination. Start with simple questions such as If you could be any food, what would you be? and answer the question yourself so that they understand the reciprocal nature of conversations.
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7: Order for them
When your kids are first learning how to eat out, theyll need some direction when it comes to food selection. Left to their own devices, they may skip veggies, fruits and proteins and go right for the sweet stuff. Guide them to the best bites for their nutrition — and your budget (salmon vs. lobster tail) — and ultimately theyll be able to make wise decisions on their own.
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8: Order appetizers at your own risk
For some kids, having an appetizer brought quickly to the table helps keep them occupied while they are waiting for their entrée. However, for kids with smaller appetites, appetizers can make them full and ready to leave before their (and your) entrée is served.
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9: Admonish in private
If your kids decide to behave contrary to your expectations, remind them (as calmly and quietly as possible) of your expectations. And if you have non-family diners at your table, you should discreetly take the errant child to the restroom and have a conversation there. Redirecting or embarrassing your kids in front of others is generally inadvisable (you know, more judging eyes and all).
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10: Just leave
When your kid decides to throw a tantrum and no reasoning will help, just leave the premises. Sometimes, it's best to acknowledge that, in the short term, you cannot effectively redirect your child's errant behavior. A missed family meal is unfortunate, but your food can be boxed and taken home. Meanwhile, your kid will have had a learning opportunity.
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