Why your toddler misbehaves in restaurants
Our child psychologist explains why your child may feel the need to play up when you eat out
Eating out with a toddler is a fun, new experience for all of you. Until she starts acting up. Suddenly, a family meal turns into an embarrassing scene. People are staring. There are tears. You wonder if you’ll ever eat out again…
It’s all so exciting for her
The main reason your toddler behaves like this is because of excitement. Eating out is very different from eating at home. There are strange surroundings, unusual sights and smells, and new people – no wonder she likes it. The problem is that this excitement makes her agitated. Drinks get knocked over, cutlery clangs to the floor and her voice becomes louder. She’s not doing these things to deliberately annoy you – it’s the excitement taking hold. Add that to a suppressed appetite because of the excitement too, and she’s just not herself.
She gets confused
Everything is so different for your toddler in a restaurant. She could be feeling confused, too. Remember, she’s used to child-sized cutlery and crockery, a chair in which she can eat her meal while seeing everyone else, small portions, and food that is served at just the right temperature. If any of these factors are absent when eating out, she starts to think, “I don’t like this, I want to get away” – and that’s when trouble begins!
So, check all this out beforehand. Either visit the restaurant or ring them up. Ask yourself; will my toddler feel comfortable eating there? Unless you are confident she would, pick somewhere else. This may mean you have to eat out with your toddler in a restaurant that isn’t your first choice.
Set realistic expectations when you eat out with your toddler. You’ll find she’s more settled if you allow her to eat less than she would at home. Instead of insisting that she clears everything on her plate – which she typically does at home – let her eat the amount she wants, even though this may not be as much as usual. That way, you’ll all find the meal more enjoyable.
How to have a happy family meal dining out:
- Visit a child-friendly restaurant. Not everywhere welcomes children, so do check beforehand.
- Don’t order too much. The shorter the meal, the better, at least until her behaviour improves. One course is a good idea.
- Pick your mealtime carefully. Even if it’s not entirely convenient, try to book a table for a time when the restaurant is quieter.
- Give clear instructions to the waiter. If, for instance, your toddler dislikes tomatoes, ask the waiter to ensure there are none on her plate when it arrives.
- Discuss beforehand. Explain to your toddler that you’re going to eat out today and tell her in advance how you expect her to behave.
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