Tips to Enjoy Eating Out with Children

Family eating together in a restaurant

I have always loved eating out with the kids. Yes, there have been stressful times as Alicen threw up a LOT when she was two and three years old. And yes, occasionally we’ve had to cut things short over behavior or exhaustion. That said, eating out can be a very pleasant experience with children at any age.

There are several basic things to consider when choosing a restaurant with young children.

  • Kid friendly – Some children need more practice than others at learning to speak quietly and sit at a table. The idea is to start at very kid friendly restaurants. With little ones, we go to restaurants like Chili’s where it is okay if they are occasionally loud.
  • Kids’ menu – It may be helpful to check out menus online or to call ahead and ask about menu options. The best kid’s menus we’ve seen are at Legal Seafood and Firefly. Other times we just order them extra plates, and then split off our own.
  • Things to do – It can be so helpful when a restaurant offers some activities. Bertucci’s offers kids dough to play with, Macaroni Grill lets them draw on the paper table cloth and Cracker Barrel has the peg game and five page coloring book menus.
  • Things to look at –  In our area, Mango Mikes has a huge fish tank that children can see from the dining room or up close if their parents walk them near the bar. The National Gallery of Art Cascade Café has a waterfall outside a picture window to look at and moving walkway for something to do. The Rainforest Café has an amazing amount to look at.
  • Kids’ area –  Some restaurants go as far as having a kids’ area. This can be a play area like at IKEA or Generous George’s, or a seating area like at Paradiso. Paradiso has a kids’ room where children sit at small picnic table and eat while watching Disney movies on a big screen TV while parents have a nice meal in the next room. While this defeats the social piece and learning to sit with parents, it’s another fun option.
  • Kids’ trinkets – Mango Mikes has a wall full of party favor type toys for children to pick from. Stardust gave little plastic figures on their drinks. We grew a collection of their mermaids and elephants.
  • Plan to walk around – Sitting through the meal itself can be a long stretch for little ones. If you go in planning to walk around the restaurant or even outside with them once before and once after the meal, it may help them to sit longer and make the experience less frustrating.

Activity bag – It can be helpful to carry a “restaurant bag” in your car at all times. This is a bag that has small notebooks and pencils, stickers, small Playdoh and a few party-favor toys. This bag only comes out once menu items have been chosen, goes away when the food comes and can be available again once they eat. The trick is to not have it available at other times like when you are stuck in traffic. If they get to play with it other times, it likely won’t hold their attention in the restaurant.

Conversation WITH them – This is probably the most important point, spend your time speaking with your children. At any age, include them in the conversation. Ask them questions and share your time. Teach them that meals are a pleasant and social time.

Contribution during – Contribution in general is giving children jobs related to a transition or other daily function. At home, this includes them matching cups to lids or taking drink orders when you are making dinner. At a restaurant, this might include them folding and refolding napkins, buttering rolls, passing food or putting food on a fork for you.

Sit at a booth – If your kids are often up and down from the table, a booth might be helpful so you can box them in.

Sit outside – If it’s available, sitting outside tends to give kids lots to look at and others may be more forgiving of noise.

Plan dinner on the early side – Eating late, children are more likely to be tired and hungry which is a recipe for disaster. It’s better to go early when everyone is fresh.

Successful Grocery Shopping with Children

Grocery shopping with children can be quite a task. It takes a while to get through the store, there are lots of temptations and distractions at their level and most times, not a lot of fun. There are several ways to increase the likelihood of a successful shopping trip.

The first line of defense is getting organized. Shop at the same store each time and build your list around the store layout. You might bring a snack along for your child or open a box of cereal or crackers that you plan to buy. An available snack might curb repeatedly asking for other foods.

The second is to have a way to contain them as needed. Of course this is for the little ones and includes a baby seat, a seat belt, space in the big cart or a drivers seat in the car carts.

The third way is to engage your children. Give them jobs and include them in the shopping process. Here is a list of several ways they can help by age:

One and Two Year Olds

  • Okay, this age is probably too young to really be helpful, but for sure the grocery store provides a wealth of conversation starters and chances to encourage early speech. You can label the fruits and vegetables, discuss colors, and talk about cold vs. hot in various areas.

Three and Four Years Olds

  • Children this age can start to make choices about which cereal or ice cream to pick.  At this little age, it’s best to give them a choice of two per decision.
  • They can count (with you and then independently) the number of apples into the bag or soup cans into the cart.
  • They can find rhymes such as a fruit that rhymes with “bapples.”
  • They can find flavors of yogurt based on the pictures.

Five, Six and Seven Year Olds

  • As they are learning to read and write, children may be excited to help write, find and cross off the items on the list.
  • They can weigh fruits and vegetables.
  • They can help load and unload the cart.
  • They can play Eye Spy to find foods on the list. You might describe, “I spy a fruit that is round and crispy, red, shiny and has a stem,” for apples or, “I spy a blue box with a happy tiger on the front,” for Frosted Flakes.

Eight, Nine and Ten Year Olds

  • As they are a bit older, children might be interested in learning about nutrition labels.
  • As math skills increase, they may be able to calculate the cost of fruits and vegetables by weight.
  • They can manage the hand-held scanner if it’s available.
  • They can push the cart.
  • They can manage the coupons.

Older Kids

  • To practice additional math skills, children can learn to comparison shop by comparing price per weight of different sizes. They can keep a tally of the total and calculate coupons and taxes.
  • As you are comfortable, they can find items scattered across the store and bring them one at a time to the cart, OR take half the list and a second cart and meet you in the middle.
  • Older kids might bring recipes they’d like to make and shop for them along side you.

At any age, give descriptive praise when they are successful. Say things like, “you got the apples in the bag, that was helpful!” or, “thanks for pushing the cart.” Please add your own ideas for getting through the grocery store below!

Plan, Do, Review for Summer Outings

Plan-Do-Review is a piece of HighScope preschool curriculum. Plan-Do-Review builds children’s vocabulary and supports concept development through repetition and focus on goal setting and follow through. In the preschool classroom, children might plan during circle time by telling their teacher what they will do during center time. In our classes we ask children to tell us their plan with at least one detail and a second activity if they finish the first. The ‘do’ happens when children are in centers. Teachers might visit with children and have conversation that highlights the ongoing activity. Teachers might provide running commentary about children’s efforts and progress. After centers, children then review with their teachers by describing what they just did or presenting what they accomplished.

This is an easy idea to replicate at home, especially around outings and travel. If a beach trip is coming up, the plan might include checking out library books about the beach, building sandcastles in the backyard sandbox and looking at pictures from last year’s beach trip in the photo album. The ‘do’ includes the whole day at the beach, playing in the waves, digging in the sand and talking about all the things your child is doing and seeing. The review includes making seashell art with all you collected, calling Grandma and telling her about the day and making a new scrapbook page together. The idea is to introduce and discuss the topic and details before, during and after.

(Why I Will) NEVER Shop at Abercrombie & Fitch Again

I am the mom of two daughters. Claire is 12 years old, and Alicen is 15. They are both active, healthy, fun-loving and kind. They have great friends. Among other things like volleyball and playing guitar, Alicen enjoys shopping and I enjoy taking her. After reading an online article about the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jefferies’s ideas about shaping his brand, we will never be shopping there again. Please, read for yourself: http://elitedaily.com/news/world/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-explains-why-he-hates-fat-chicks/. A few highlights include that he “doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing” and, “fat chicks will just never be a part of the ‘in’ crowd.” To ensure they stay out of his store, A & F only offers women’s clothes through size 10.

If Jefferies were 14 years old, he would be a bully. But he is not a 14 year old student, he is a 69 year old CEO of a clothing store that markets to preteen through college students. He is a powerful man that supports social bullying and exclusion between our students through a horrible corporate culture. His business tactics tell our daughters that they are less valuable if they wear a size 12. This makes him an ass.

While my girls are typically more concerned about what looks good and feels comfortable for clothing, this was enough to push them over the edge as well. They agree, there are too many other places to get them great clothes than to spend another dollar with a company that allows and encourages these ugly ideas.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

I’ve found another family mantra, bloom where you are planted. We’ve been discussing this one with our girls all week. We’ve touched on this over the years, but this week it hit home when we went on vacation with a few other families. This vacation included a day at a low-key amusement park, a dinner show, lots of shopping and late night time at the open-24-hours hotel pool. I get “low-key” and “amusement park” are incongruent, but it is a park with swings and wooden coasters as opposed to the crazy big coasters even my kids prefer. My kids made the best of it, they rode every ride that looked remotely fun. The other kids deemed the rides “for babies” and sat out most of them just watching. While in line for a roller coaster, they complained to their mom that she “wasted her money,” and that “this place is lame.”

The much anticipated day at the amusement park was also an unseasonably cold 45 degree day with light rain starting by lunchtime. Early in the morning my girls and I decided to make the best of it, enjoy what we could. The other families bailed by 2:00 p.m. The girls and I stayed, we rode rides in the rain til 7:00 p.m. My 15 year old commented, “Yeah, it’s raining, but we are here, and this is fun.” The dinner show unfolded in a similar fashion. My girls singing and participating with the adults, the other children rolling their eyes. My girls enjoyed the pool, just the two of them.

There are several ways to teach this attitude:

  • Model it – My husband’s example was about a day we spent with my high school friends at a community garden in Richmond. He says he couldn’t think of a more dull way to spend the day, but decided to make the most of it and went for nature walks and played tag with our girls.
  • Highlight it – When your children keep an upbeat attitude, let them know you noticed.
  • Focus on solutions not problems – When it started to drizzle, my daughter said, “If it rains harder, we could stop and see a show or have lunch.”
  • Live in the moment as it is, rather than focusing on what it isn’t – One of the other children commented, “my friend Beth went somewhere good for vacation.” She couldn’t be grateful for where she was when she focused on where she wasn’t.
  • Practice gratitude – The more children practice gratitude, the more they feel it. We were blessed to have time away together as a family, that alone is reason to be grateful.
  • Smile more – It’s easy and can help improve your mood and your outlook.

I hope my girls keep this attitude as they grow. I want them to fully enjoy and make the most of wherever they are.

For our other family mantras, please visit: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/mantras-in-our-family/.

Please share your family mantras here!

In Discipline: Whoever Starts It Gets to Finish

There is a golden rule in discipline when you are parenting as a couple. It is simple, whoever starts it gets to finish. This means if the first parent is into a discipline exchange, as long as it’s not abusive, the second parent avoids intervening, correcting the first, rescuing the child, taking over or undermining in any way. If the second parent must say something, they should err on the side of supporting the first or offer to help. If the offer to help is declined, it’s declined.

When I have seen a discipline exchange going south fast for my husband, I have offered to help. Sometimes he says, “no thanks, I got it.” Other times he says, “yes, take them. It’s your turn.” If the former, I say, “listen to your father.” I reserve the right to make a note of the situation and discuss it with him after and away from the children. If the latter, I move forward in discipline.

If you don’t offer and just move in, or if you offer and move in even though you were declined, you are making your partner’s job harder the next go around. It can be very hard, but there is a need to let them build an individual parent-child relationship. Both parents should be able to feel confident in their interactions and discipline exchanges.

If you disagree often over discipline, you may want to spend time working through it apart from the children. You might read Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage by Pruett and Pruett. You might also take my live or audio workshop on Parenting as a Couple.

 

 

Say “Yes” Whenever You Can

As parents we tend to say “no” often. I think many of us say “no” to the things our children ask of us without even stopping to think. “No” is just the first thing or the easy thing to say. As a preschool teacher, I’ve learned to make “yes” my default answer. I stop and think before answering and say “yes” as often as I can. When children need more glue for their project, even if I think they have enough, the answer is “yes.” If they want to leave their block tower standing rather than clean up and the space is available, the answer is “yes.” Life is more fun and children are happier.

I remember eating lunch with Claire when she was three years old. She had her hot pizza in one hand and a spoon of cold yogurt in her other. She said, “can I put my yogurt on my pizza?” My first thought was “no, gross,” but instead I asked, “are you going to eat it?” She answered an enthusiastic, “yes!” So I said, “okay.” She spread yogurt all over her pizza and then ate the whole thing. She was happy and it was one less “no” we all had to deal with. Had she spread yogurt on her pizza, and then not eaten it, but asked again the next day, that answer would be a “no.” In this case the “yes” worked, and she enjoyed spreading yogurt on almost everything else she ate that month.

Teaching Children Thankfulness

There are so many great ways to teach children thankfulness.

  • Say “Thank you” as often as you can – Model manners. If you expect them to say “please” and “thank you” often, you’ll need to model it yourself. It can be helpful to include a bit about why you are saying “thank you.” Meaning say, “thank you for holding the door,” or, “thank you for speaking nicely to your sister.”
  • Discuss things you appreciate and are thankful for each day – This is more general, but it is voicing appreciation. This may be, “I really enjoy the orange and red leaves in our neighborhood in the fall,” or ,”I appreciate how much you helped your brother picking up his room this morning.”
  • Encourage children to voice one good thing that happened each day – Maybe at the dinner table or during tuck-in, encourage children to find one good thing that happened each day. Occasionally, I will throw in a one bad, crazy or surprising thing, but most days it’s good.
  • Plan a weekly thankfulness conversation at dinner – Many of us save this conversation for the Thanksgiving dinner. The idea is to have this conversation weekly. Encourage each person at the table to state one thing they are thankful for.
  • Give opportunity for children to do nice and helpful things for others – This may be helping a neighbor sweep their sidewalk or sharing a toy with a child who is playing alone at the playground. Discuss with your child after how good it can feel to think of others and how they would be thankful if someone helped them that way.
  • Encourage generosity – Encourage your children to help sort through their clothes and toys to donate. Talk about how this helps other people who may be in need. Discuss how you are thankful for the things you have and thankful you are able to share.
  • Write and help them to write Thank You notes – While this may seem a lost art, it is helpful for children to regularly write thank you notes. For sure after birthdays and holidays, but also other times as it seems fit. Maybe they write a thank you note to their teacher at the end of the school year.

Thanksgiving Day Parenting Tips

Thanksgiving day without children can be hectic between travel time, visiting family, cooking and cleaning. Add a seven, four and two-year-old to the mix, and it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to help with the day:

  • Do what you can ahead – This may be baking desserts, making and freezing side dishes the days before or really cleaning the house over the weekend.
  • Hire out what you can – I cheat. Each year I have at least one store bought dessert and side dish that I may claim as my own. Not a luxury I have often, but occasionally we have a housecleaning service before the holidays and out of town guests.
  • Keep children busy during prep – If you have an extra adult who is available outside the kitchen, have them lead a nature walk or help children to browse toy catalogs to cut and paste a Holiday wish list. If they are really gung-ho, provide a pre-formed ginger bread house with frosting and decorations (left over halloween candy in my house) for the children to make a centerpiece.
  • OR Involve them during prep – If they are old enough, include them in the preparations. Children can color placemats, write menus, butter vegetables, knead pie crust, take drink orders and set tables.
  • Stick to normal routines – This means mealtimes and naps as much as you can.  This can go a long way towards a pleasant day for all.
  • Include kid-friendly food – I tend to think traditional Thanksgiving food is pretty kid-friendly. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be sure there will be mashed potatoes or mac and cheese if it’s a favorite.
  • Use contribution during the meal – Children love to help. Encourage them to butter rolls, carry plates or refold napkins as needed.
  • Discipline in private – To provide a pleasant mealtime for all, step away from the table for discipline.
  • Set expectations a bit lower – Remember they are children. It can be a challenging day particularly if they’ve travelled, are not sleeping in their own room or sharing their room with a cousin.

Mantras in Our Family

  •  Avoid Creating Work for Other People – Maybe this comes from waiting tables through college, or from how hectic our careers feel now, but I’m reminding the girls often to not create work for other people. In little ways, this means checking under the table at restaurants to be sure we’ve not left a mess. In big ways, it means being prompt with letting people know where you are and what’s your plan, so they are not left to work or worry around you. It’s being responsible for your own stuff.
  •  Different Families Do Different Things – I have answered so many questions and started so many conversations with my children by saying, “different families do different things…” This has ranged from other families living in bigger houses and other children not having a set bedtime, to other sets of siblings slinging horrible names at each other going unchecked and a mom friend who slapped her then 4 year old during a playdate at our house. This works in both directions. Sometimes it’s nice to be in our family, sometimes they are wishing they could stay up nightly til they just conk out. In either direction, it brings them back to the focus on home and who we are.
  • Grow Up Slowly – While I understand they can’t really know this til they know it, I want my children to recognize that it goes by fast. That there’s no need to be in a hurry to be on top of the ticking clock. I want them to hold on to being a kid for as long as they can. We’ve made a great effort to enjoy things with them and talk about how even daddy’s not too old to enjoy an afternoon spent on mastering the Slip’n’slide. He notes The Wiggles as one of the best concerts he’s seen, and he’s seen many big acts in the last 30 years. We’ve put effort into putting off getting ears pierced, wearing make-up or having cells phones until they are following their friends rather than leading the charge.
  •  Enjoy Where You Are – I am still learning this one myself, so the mantra brings me back as much as them. For my 14-year-old, this is actually turning off her phone when we are at lunch with Grandma and Grandpa, so she can be fully engaged in the conversation. For me, it’s watching an entire gymnastics practice rather than taking the time to get caught up with work.
  • Move Forward in Peace – Okay, this is just mine.