Family dinners & dining out

5 Tips for Taking Your Middle or High School Child Out to Dinner

By The Understood Team

5Found this helpful
5Found this helpful

Teens and tweens aren’t always thrilled about eating out with their families to begin with. But for some kids with learning and attention issues, being in restaurants can also present challenges. These tips can help.

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Be clear about expectations.

Is this a place where your child shouldn’t wear shorts or flip-flops? Is it OK for him to quietly play games on his phone at the table? Even if it’s obvious to you, your child may not know what your social expectations are at a restaurant. Your rules may be different depending on the type of place you’re going to. Let him know in advance where you’re going and what it’s like. And be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable.

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Work with your child’s issues.

Just because you’re going out to eat doesn’t mean your child can leave the symptoms of his learning and attention issues behind. Be sensitive to his challenges. If he has reading issues, discreetly help him figure out what the menu says. If he has sensory issues, have a plan B ready in case his dish is too spicy. For instance, you might let him fill up on salad and breadsticks and bring the uneaten meal home. Someone else can enjoy it another evening!

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Eat at off-peak times.

Loud or busy places can overwhelm some kids who have learning and attention issues. If your child does better in a less hectic environment, avoid the rush. Try going for an early or late lunch or dinner. Eating at these quieter times can make it easier for your child to read through the menu, order and eat without feeling stressed. Having fewer people around can also mean less distraction, so your child will be better able to focus on being part of the family fun.

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Use ordering as a chance to practice asking for things.

It’s important for your teen or tween to learn to ask for what he wants and needs. Have him practice by asking the server for something specific but simple. He might start with, “Can I please have the salad dressing on the side?” Making polite requests of the server can also give him a chance to practice social skills with you there to prompt him if needed.

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Consider letting your child bring a friend.

If your child struggles with social situations, letting him invite a friend to the restaurant may be a good idea. Having a guest he’s comfortable with can give him a chance to practice skills in a low-stress situation. And he won’t have to do it with the added pressure of having lots of his peers around.

Even if he doesn’t bring a friend, restaurants can still be a good place to work on social skills. He’ll get to see how you handle social interactions, and you can help him navigate them on his own. There are many benefits to eating out with your tween or teen—like getting to spend time together.

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About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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