Eating out in restaurants and coffee shops with children has become an everyday phenomenon. But not all parents are prepared for the challenges that come with keeping children contained and well-behaved in such public spaces.

Because children between the ages of one and 12 years old are born to move and be curious about their world, sitting in one place for long periods of tme can be difficult unless parents get involved with their children, pay attention and distract them from what they shouldn’t be doing.

Here are some basic guidelines to help you get the best out of your time with your children in restaurants. I call them my 10 Commandments for Taking Children to Restaurants:

10 Commandments for taking children to restaurants

  1. Feed your child a small snack before arriving at the restaurant (a hungry child is a fractious child)
  2. Keep juice/water on hand (a thirsty child is an irritable child)
  3. Order the children’s food with your drinks order (we know that young children don’t have much patience)
  4. If there is bread on the table, allow your child to butter a piece (it keeps them occupied and is good for developing fine motor control – pre-writing skills)
  5. Let your child play with a small piece of playdough on a side plate with a fork (it’s fascinating and a great distraction while you wait for food to arrive)
  6. Drawing or colouring-in is always fun. Find small activity books and crayons you easily take with you wherever you go. (Often children don’t like the broken crayons supplied by restaurants)
  7. Play a perceptual game with your child eg, a picture matching game like snap for younger children, or a card game like UNO for older children (by playing with them you engage their attention and keep them in their seats for longer)
  8. Don’t make a big fuss about things, rather divert your child’s attention to something else
  9. Be in control – be firm but proactive (if your child is having a meltdown you need to firmly pick them up and go and find a new space where they can calm down, such as walking out side to see the koi fish in the pond, or go for a slide in the jungle gym area)
  10. If there are two adults you may need to take turns eating and attending to your children, especially if they are small (doing timeshare is normal – this too shall pass!)
  11. Make sure there is a blanket and pillow in the car. You can usually find a corner somewhere to lay down a tired child (better your child takes a nap that runs amok in the restaurant trying to keep themselves awake).

If you follow these simple guidelines above you will be able to keep your children in check and out of the water feature or fountain at the door!

Nikki has an acclaimed workshop called Parenting on the Run that deals with these issues in more detail. Click here for more information.