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How to get your Child to Sit Nice at a Restaurant

We’ve all fallen victim to it in one way or another, the glare. Either someone is looking at you like you’ve brought a circus into the restaurant, or you are looking at another family wondering how on earth they can think their child’s behavior is acceptable in public.

If you’ve battled with the fear of bringing your family out to eat, fearful of what others may think or say, fear no more.

If you have ever wondered how that “other family” gets their kids to sit so nice, you’ve just found the secret you’ve been praying for!

Getting kids to listen at a restaurant is a challenge for all parents (at least once because nobody is perfect). Depending on how long you’ve allowed the “wild” to run free, there are different degrees of strategy to use.

1. For those really difficult cases, it is important to plan a meal that you are prepared to walk away from. Children need to know that when you say something you mean it. Talk to your child before leaving for the restaurant. Let them know what is acceptable behavior, let them know this is a special privilege, and tell them that if they do not follow the rules and expectations you’ve just set for them you will be leaving the restaurant and going straight home.

Again, be prepared to get up and leave the restaurant. If you have a strong willed child he/she will test you on this, especially if you have wavered on your threats before.

2. Choose a child friendly eatery. You may want to start simple, such as a place that has a play area. Set simple guidelines for your child. “We’re going to eat first. If you can show me that you can sit nice while we have our food you can play after you’ve finished your meal.” This will ease them into the process. Don’t worry; you won’t be stuck with fast food dining for the rest of their childhood. It is a basic, immediate gratification reward system that will allow them a better chance at success.

Once you’ve mastered sit and eat first, then play you will be ready to move to the next step; a sit down restaurant without a play area. (Again, focus on child friendly places with children’s menus.)

3. Bring activities for your child to do. An activity bag is a great little tool. Fill it with coloring books and crayons, reading books (“seek and find” are great for keeping kids busy!), cars, dolls, ponies, dinosaurs, etc. Choose items that are smaller in size to allow more variety to fit in the bag. For older children try some cross-word puzzles or other word game books to keep them occupied.

4. Strike up a conversation! Sometimes when adults bring kids out they forget to include the children in their conversations. Keep them in the loop. Ask about what they would like off the menu, how their day was, what they would like to do after dinner, anything you can think of to keep them engaged in conversation with you. Giving them your full attention will minimize if not completely eliminate those wiggles.

5. Play table games with them: Put a spin on “car games” and turn them into table games instead. You can play “I spy”, look for things that start with letters of the alphabet, search for colors, shapes, or numbers. Make up stories about the other patrons. “Oh, that guy in the corner looks like he’s a spy. Do you think he’s here to get the secret apple pie recipe?” Use your imagination and let them use theirs. Break out some paper and pencils or crayons from that activity bag and ask your child to draw a picture of what his spy car or secret hide out might look like.

6. Choose your seating: rather than sitting wherever the hostess puts you, ask for a window table, or somewhere out of the main flow of traffic. If you have a child with a small bladder you may want to sit closer to the restrooms so as not to disturb the other customers as much. Sitting by the window will allow your child to direct his/her attention to the hustle and bustle of passing cars, or the cool serene outlook over the natural landscape. Windows take away from the feeling of being “stuck” inside.

7. Order an appetizer. Give your child something to snack on while waiting for the main dish to arrive. Order something you know they like. The main focus is to keep them occupied and engaged rather than running a’ muck. Asking for a to-go box for their meal is worth it when you get to experience a nice family dinner out. It’s all right if he/she fills up on the appetizer, hey, they are sitting nicely. The other side of this coin is to choose foods that you can eat relatively quickly in the beginning, or ones that you don’t mind boxing up and taking home for later. Achieve sitting nicely first, then work toward sitting nicely while everyone finishes.

8. Be sure to praise your child at every available opportunity. Lavish him/her with positive attention. Compliments can include: holding the door open, sitting nicely, remembering to use manners with the server, or using good table manners. The more you notice the good behavior, the quicker the negative behavior will disappear. There won’t be a need for it anymore!

Your family can do this! You can go out and have a lovely time at a restaurant. These same tools can cross over into other events as well. Before you know it, you’ll be out on the town and getting complements from other parents who wished they knew how YOU do it. Enjoy – it’s a great feeling.