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Monkey Boy’s first exposure to restaurants happened when he was a mere week old. When it comes to children, for us, they’re included in just about everything we do. Taking even a wee little one into a restaurant is just a thing we do. When Monkey Boy was very young, we did a ton of babywearing. This helped to make sure that he was comfortable and he could also be nursed if necessary. In turn, he’s always been part of any restaurant experience right along with us.
Of course, we weren’t thinking about the importance of restaurant behavior back then, but since going somewhere to eat on occasion is something we do, it’s only natural to bring Monkey Boy along with us. As a result, Monkey Boy has been to all sorts of eating places with us:
From little diners
to family style restaurants
to places that are a bit fancier, though still family friendly, like Olive Garden.
For our family, our expectations in a restaurant really aren’t much different than our expectations during meals at home or with family. These expectations are pretty basic:
– sit at the table and wait for the food to be served
– eat using utensils (as appropriate)
– no standing at the table
– no screaming or otherwise making loud noises
– no playing with or throwing the food
– wait for others to eat before leaving
– use napkins as needed
We actually, have never intentionally had or created a “restaurant” bag of activities for Monkey Boy to do while we wait. To date, it’s never really been anything we’d thought of doing. Typically, especially now that he’s older and requires his own meal, there’s generally a kid friendly menu/coloring page of some sort that he’ll occasionally play with. When he was younger though, we usually held him until right before our food arrived, or just gave him a spoon or straw with which to entertain himself if in a highchair.
Because we understand that children can be children and their patience and understanding of situations is lower than ours, we do know that disturbances can happen. So, on occasion, we’ve taken Monkey Boy away from the table for a change of scenery, because he was too restless while waiting, or (now) because he’s not behaving as expected. Except when Monkey Boy was younger, we always give warnings, which generally work, but there are those times. And again, this is all about reinforcing our expectations.
Today, when taken away from the table, we go to have a conversation. This generally involves one of us leaving the table and either taking him outside, to the bathroom, or even just to the lobby area to talk about how to behave. Or, in other words, one of use repeating over and over what we’re to be doing at the table. Once we’re all seated at the table again, things generally go rather smoothly.
And so, the crux of this is, exposure is the way to go. Or, said differently, we believe that in order to learn expected behaviors, it’s important to model those behaviors. We believe in Monkey Boy being present and given opportunities to learn the rhythms of being in a restaurant through both observation and engagement.
Does your family go out to restaurants with young children? In what ways to do you teach good restaurant behavior?