Do you feel like you’re going out less since you had the baby? Going to out to dinner or shopping with your toddler can often feel more like a battle than a relaxing night out. The good news is that with a bit of planning and compromise you can still enjoy nice outings and dinners WITH your toddler!
First of all let’s try to put ourselves into your toddler’s shoes… “How exciting is it to go to a fancy restaurant where everything is sparkling and shinny but I’m not allowed to touch any of it! I have to sit still all the time, I can’t use my hands to eat and it sounds like it’s a big deal if I spill my drink. I don’t know why we came here in the first place, no one told me where we were going and this place doesn’t even have a swing!”
From your little one’s point of view this isn’t such a great experience either which can cause him to become restless and start acting out. Here’s what you can do to make outings a more pleasant experience for everyone.
Pick a suitable location
Try to find a place that is family friendly that has a children’s menu or high chairs for your baby. Check to see if they have a play area for kids. If you’re looking for a quieter setting without a lot of kids running around check to see if place has an outdoor area or space where you can walk around with your toddler in between courses to make sure he gets his energy out. This will make it easier for him to sit at the table when food is served. You can also bring along a story or crayons to keep your child entertained while at the table.
Let your child know in advance
Prepare your child for what to expect by telling him where you’re going, what you’ll be doing there, what behavior is expected of him and everyone else (no banging on the table or running around) and what he can look forward to as well. Make sure your sentences are positively phrased; “We should use our forks properly instead of banging with them”. Let your child know that there’s something in this for him as well. He can bring a book, crayons and coloring book or his headphones to listen to music. Let him know if there’s a playground or outdoor space you’ll visit together before dessert. Remember to make sure you stick to your promise and follow through.
Compromise and respect your child’s needs
If none of the family friendly facilities are available then try to create your own! You might think of skipping dessert and walking to the ice-cream store next door for a treat and to get your toddler moving. Take your toddler for a brief walk to see the fish tank if you’re in a seafood restaurant or other interesting things while you wait for your order.
Don’t spend the evening prodding your toddler to finish his food or eat his veggies. Make it a treat and order something special for him off the menu. If there’s no kid’s menu ask your waiter if they can make a mini pizza for your child. Pasta is always a hit with kids! If you’re out shopping and don’t know where you’ll end up for lunch then pack an appropriate snack for your child that you can take with you on your outing. Similarly let your child know that after shopping is done that you’ll be going to a place just for him. A few places you can go to are the playground, toy store, children’s bookstore for story time, pottery painting café or even just sitting in a space where your child can run around with other kids.
Accept that tantrums may still happen
Remember that even if you go through all the planning and your child still ends up throwing a tantrum and throwing his spoon on the floor that it’s OK! Children are people too and can’t be molded to neatly fit a plan every time. They have needs and wants that might be different than their parents’. Don’t let this discourage you and make sure you respond to your toddler with love and patience when a tantrum happens. Remember to ask him what happened and how he felt after he calms down. This can help prevent the same problem from reoccurring.