The idea of a family dinner out at a restaurant sounds so appealing in theory. Eating out can be a way to celebrate a special occasion, to get in some quality time as a family, or to explore a new area when traveling. The reality of dining out with kids can often be very different though. Sometimes, they may struggle with sitting still and using indoor voices. Other times, you may find yourself doubling the server’s tip due to food thrown on the floor or shattered plates needing to be cleaned up.
Handing over an iPad to your little one at a restaurant can be such an easy solution. It keeps them focused and engaged, and you might be able to hold an entire conversation with your partner while your child is distracted by the iPad. The thought of getting to finish a thought or getting to eat in peace may sound heavenly, but the reality is that using the iPad as a solution may not be the best idea for your family in the long run.
There are numerous studies that show a strong, positive correlation between time spent together during a family meal and academic performance and learning, behavior, and less likelihood of substance use and abuse.
When we provide a method of disengagement and distraction to our children at a restaurant, how can we possibly expect them to learn to sit and engage in conversation when you are out? If you would like them to appreciate the fact that you are taking them out to eat or if you hope they will one day be excited to try new foods and places, how does letting an iPad babysit them through the experience give them a fair chance of being able to do this one day?
Yes, we all need a break as parents, and no, every experience does not need to become a teachable moment, but if we want our kids to be able to adapt to situations in an emotionally healthy way, we have to try not to give them the easy out of an isolating and distracting activity. The good news is that there are ways to engage your children while eating out that allow for interaction and that quality family time you were hoping for!
Bring a Deck of Cards
A deck of cards offers easy portability and an endless number of games you can play together as a family. Even the youngest of kids can partner with an older sibling or parent to participate in games like Go Fish or War. Card games allow for family interaction and lots of laughter.
Would you Rather…?
Question games like Would You Rather bring about lively conversation and an opportunity for everyone to stretch their imaginations. Would you rather live at Disney World or be friends with Harry Potter? Would you rather eat pizza every day but never get dessert or would you rather eat green veggies for every meal but get as much ice cream as you want every day? The possibilities are endless, and you’ll be amused by all of the responses.
Give your children a chance to take the lead on your dinner experience by asking them to come up with characters and a scenario for your family members to role play throughout the dinner. Your family might act like royalty or trolls or Disney characters throughout dinner, all under the direction of your children. Eating out doesn’t have to be boring or be removed from play and imagination.
Once you ditch the iPads at restaurants and start exploring other ways for the family to interact, you might find that dining out comes closer to your hopes for these family experiences. Kids will always be kids, and restaurant time as a family may not ever be perfect, but with a change in perspective and a creative plan, you might find that your kids can make eating out an even better experience for you.
For more family ideas and advice, follow FamilyEducation on Pinterest: