Are you nervous about taking your children out to cafes or restaurants because asking them to sit at the table for long periods of time seems, or has been previously, too much of a task for everyone?!
Over the years during our nannying careers, we have been out to eat with our charges many, many times in both casual and formal situations. From casual afternoon coffee with friends, to high end restaurants and 10 course tasting menus to get through – next to a swimming pool I might add, we’ve seen the lot. We’ve compiled some of our top tips we’ve learnt along the way; sometimes the hard way!
Firstly, and probably most importantly, make sure your expectations for the upcoming event are realistic. Is the resaurant or cafe you are going to appropriate for the ages of children you have? Of course, some situations are unavoidable, such as the tasting menu mentioned above, so success is all in the planning! However, as a general rule of thumb make sure you are happy with where you are going and have thought about how long you will be there for beforehand as this will help you plan the rest and whether it is possible to do a quick lap of the place to stretch some legs.
Time. This is another key aspect to success. If going for dinner, make sure you turn up before the usual time of the children’s dinner. If you have to wait for 30 mins before you get any food you may already end up in a downward spiral. If this isn’t possible take a small snack of vegetable sticks to firstly keep the hunger at bay and secondly to occupy the children for a few minutes!
The reasoning behind going out for lunch or coffee may well be for the adults to see each other and catch up but you really must take time to have conversations with your children and involve them too. Even if you pack a number of toys for them to amuse themselves with, if left to it for the entire time it will no doubt all go to pot and they will get bored. Children want to be involved in what is going on. Normally children will start to fuss when feeling left out and the attention isn’t on them 100%. Although it is good to teach children that the outing is not all for them, there are only positive outcomes to be had when you involve them. Bring toys and activities of course, but in intervals ask them to put them down for a moment and hold a conversation for 5 minutes or so before letting them get back to their activities. Pick a time to go for a quick walk around the place, find things on the way so that the children don’t hare off and disturb other guests. Time will pass much quicker, the children will be wanting to play with what you have brought with you each time and they will learn quickly that time when doing their activities is a time for the adults to chat if told the plan clearly.
Bring small toys to occupy children, books that they are able to read, a small selection of lego that they can assemble independently, puzzle/activity/sticker books, notepad and pen. Try to bring quiet things so you can teach children about respecting other diners. By bringing a small number of things and rotating them throughout the time you’ll have much happier children than making them get to the end of only one activity book.
Screens. If you are happy for your children to have screen time before the meal comes make sure you set a clear tone that it is to go away when food comes to avoid a disagreement or tantrum.
End the outing when everyone is in good spirits. This way it will make us adults feel as though it was a success, give us confidence to do it again rather than remembering the earth shattering meltdown at the end that made you run out of the place wishing you could hide!
Remember to praise your little ones after every stage of the meal, you’ll get a much better reaction and cooporation from them throughout the duration of the time spent in the cafe/restaurant by doing this rather than spending your time saying “don’t get up”, “be quiet” etc!