Family dinners & dining out

6 Tips for Taking Your Preschooler or Grade-Schooler Out to Dinner

By Amanda Morin

12Found this helpful
12Found this helpful

Dining out can be hard for any young kid. But handling the crowds, noise, waiting and social rules can be especially tough for children with learning and attention issues. These tips may make it easier.

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Ask for the check early on.

Requesting your bill upfront means you can pay while you’re eating and make a quick exit if you need to. This way you don’t have to flag down a server to get your check while dealing with an antsy child. Try not to feel discouraged if your child does get antsy or has a tantrum or meltdown. If your budget allows, you can always eat out another time.

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Avoid bringing a hungry child.

It may sound counterintuitive to give your child a snack before you go to a restaurant, but it can help. Restaurant waits can be long, and kids with learning and attention issues might have a harder time controlling their emotions when they’re hungry. Try to make sure your child has enough food in her stomach to tide her over until the restaurant meal comes.

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Build a roster of kid-friendly favorite restaurants.

Loud music, bright lights, strangers and new foods can be too much for some kids with learning and attention issues. Try to find a few places that welcome kids and have foods your child will eat. This can help reduce her anxiety about the unknown. Once you build a rotation of a few restaurants, going to these familiar places can help your child feel comfortable. And having some places where you and your family are considered “regulars” may also mean that the staff can get to know your child and understand her needs.

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Discuss the rules ahead of time.

What’s expected of your child at a restaurant can be different from what’s expected at home. She might be allowed to do things in your own dining room that aren’t appropriate when you’re eating out. Let your child know what the differences are. For example, you might say, “At home when you need to move around, it’s OK to get up from the table. But at a restaurant, that could bother other people. Let me know if you need to take a walk or a break.”

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Give your child something to do.

Having something to do while they wait is especially important for kids with attention issues. Let your child bring a quiet handheld electronic game, mobile device, a book or crayons and paper. If you forget to bring something, get creative. Try setting up a tic-tac-toe board with utensils and using different colored sugar packets to play. That way your child can stay occupied while you wait for the meal.

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Stick to a regular mealtime.

Changes in routine can throw off some kids with learning and attention issues. Dining out around the same time you would eat at home can make things go smoother. It can also help ensure that your child isn’t too tired to enjoy the time your family is spending together.

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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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