Oooh…this is going to be so helpful. Can your children of all ages dine respectfully and comfortably in this type of setting?  Well, that’s not exactly the point of this blog post, but keep reading to learn how your children can behave well AND engage in conversation with others.
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Your kids should know BEFORE going to a restaurant, what behavior is expected of them. I don’t like to use the word “behavior” because it seems to be training to the appearance rather than the heart, but think about this… the behavior IS an outflow of what the heart knows. If you are teaching them how to eat neatly at home, then this will be how they behave at a restaurant.

When they truly grasp being respectful, they will apply it to all situations, including this one below where they kids have been flown in to Minneapolis to celebrate my accomplishment of reaching the highest level in my home business. It was truly a highlight of my career to have my family with me, dressed all fancy and stuff. I’m gonna just tell ya that this was NOT stressful because of “training ahead” and them just being themselves, but steppin’ it up many notches in their appearance, you understand. This was one of those moments where we saw the fruit! They knew how to dine in a fine setting with manners (so it didn’t freak them out!), they knew how to meet new people and make small talk, they knew what to expect, and most importantly, even though all eyes seemed to be on them – they knew to be about others. Halleluyer!!

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ANTICIPATE  potential specific problems, that may occur, based on your observations of each of your children,

and TRAIN AHEAD to those situations.

I like to share examples so that you have application to principles shared. Let’s say you have a child who has meltdowns when she doesn’t get her way. So, you think through what particular points in the dining experience may be times that bring about her outburst. Please note: this training to her heart of anger and selfishness is NOT just to prepare her for this specific restaurant dining, it should be part of your every day training. It should be top on your list to teach to her heart and not accept this behavior. It is totally self-centered and controlling. However, we can be in the midst of specific training to our kids and yet, they have not mastered the behavior, so we need to specifically deal with that behavior and the upcoming situation. We need to gently talk with them, role play with them, make sure they understand what to do/not to do and WHY, and then let them know the consequence if this behavior is done, AND, get this…even role play and explain to them HOW TO HANDLE THAT CONSEQUENCE if it is given. (For example,”If you throw food, I will pick you up out of the high chair and YOU will pick it up off the floor. If you disobey, I will carry you to the restroom and deal with you there. You will then come back and clean it up. You will NOT scream on the way to the bathroom. You will quietly go with me. Role play this. Remember, your discipline/teaching should also not bring attention.)

Here’s an example. Let’s say the child is Hannah. She is two. She has the temper tantrums. I have been working on her at home, and she is making much progress, but based on past behavior, I am anticipating there could POSSIBLY be screaming or throwing her cup if she doesn’t get her way.  So, as she is in her high chair at home, I am sitting down looking face to face with her, talking calmly, and I say, “Hannah, we are going to go out to eat at Chris’ Steakhouse with Mimi and Pops. This is a nice restaurant where people have saved their money to have a nice evening out. They want to eat in a place that is quiet and relaxing. We WILL eat with good manners and will not bring any attention to ourselves and not disturb them. You will NOT scream, throw anything, or make these noises “ah, ah, ah” to try to get your way. You WILL eat what is on your plate or if you are asked, you can politely say, “no thank you.” (I would role play that to make sure her facial expressions and mannerisms are very respectful, polite, and calm.)  Role play right and wrong.   I would act this out and then have her act out “What if” scenarios. “What if your cup spills over and goes into your food? How will you respond?” “What if your sister gets a bigger piece of cake than you do… and it’s WAY bigger. What will you do?” “What if…”  Use examples that train ahead. Make sure she gets the bottom line foundation to the responses- act calmly, respectfully, selflessly.

Remember with THIS child, I only need to address the big picture and HER anticipated potential flare up. With the other children, I would address theirs. It is NOT a list of do’s and don’ts. I am training to the heart – to care about others, to be respectful of the other patrons in the restaurant, and training for her to “put off” her selfishness shown through temper tantrums and in its place “put on” respect for others, demonstrated in gentleness and quiet behavior.

Let’s say you have an older child, 5, who is prone to get up and down and walk around. Your one on one with that child is geared to that. In love and with a calm voice, you talk with him saying, for example. “Troy, we are going to go with Mimi and Pops to a nice restaurant. We will all stay in our seats. When you get up it is a distraction to us at the table AND it is a distraction for the other families at the restaurant who have chosen this night and this restaurant to enjoy conversation and time together. We want to be respectful of their time…”  Make sure they understand.

Now, let’s address one more anticipated problem in the dining experience that quite often needs to be addressed to multiple family members. Engaging in conversation with all parties at the table. This is something to do with THE WHOLE FAMILY while at the table since it applies to the whole family. Or maybe you have one particular child – your teenage son, who doesn’t know how to be interested in others. AHHH!! “Stop the world” and deal with this. I’m sure you haven’t actually thought of how you are allowing your child to be self-centered by accepting his natural tendencies …to not talk with others, or be interested in someone else, namely grandparents in this case.

After all, “what do they have in common,” you may have been guilty of thinking all these years.  It’s not too late to change!

Here’s how I’d address this at the table with the whole gang and then privately with Joey (the pretend teenage son mentioned above). “Okay guys, we’re going to be spending time with grandparents, and I am sorry that I never thought about this before.”

As you learn and grow, have a habit of apologizing and OWNING things you did wrong as you learn.

This demonstrates apologizing, approachability, a teachable spirit, a life of desiring to change,

 AND creates the tone you want in your home.

Continue on…“I’ve not realized that each of us- all ages – should be intentional to show respect to them, and that one way to do this is to engage in conversation with them.  And, I’ve unknowingly allowed us to be in their presence without expecting you to talk with them. (Note that by YOU accepting ownership, they are not feeling accused, nor are they put on the defense.) So, I’m pointing this out today and want to go over some things with our whole family so that we get the importance of investing IN them and asking good questions to engage in conversation. We need to take the time to be about them – and enter their world, ask about their lives growing up, talk about things important to them, and show that we enjoy them. When you just sit there, or don’t have good eye contact it is actually rude. (Speak the truth, Mom or Dad.) So, let’s think about some things we can talk about with them. What are things you see them do that they enjoy?” Let them answer.

You are teaching them a life-long valuable skill TO BE OBSERVANT OF THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.

They may say things like “gardening, woodworking, crossword puzzles, computer games, watching TV, traveling.” Or maybe they have never really noticed and you might have to help them see. Add your input and share some points of interest that they may not know such as, “Did you know that your Pops helped work on the bridge? Do you know how your grandparents met? Did you know that she was a waitress for many years while putting herself through college?” Then, very importantly, your next step is to teach your children HOW to ask good questions, listen to their answers, show interest, and ask follow up questions.

You are teaching them HOW to be about others while building deeper relationships within the family! 

Then talk with them about  good questions that they can ask to show interest in their lives. Ask your kids, “So, what are some questions you can ask about these things we’ve talked about OR other things you might be interested in knowing about Mimi and Pops?” Pause. Listen. Don’t spoon feed. If they need help, which they most likely will if this is new to them…after pausing you can interject, “Well, we mentioned Mimi likes gardening. Do any of you know her favorite flowers? Or what she envisions in her garden? Or what fruit trees she has in her mind to get next? What could you ask her about that?” Listen to their answers and help fine tune them to be “open-ended questions that aren’t just requiring a YES/NO answer, but one’s that help have dialogue.  Then role play a few scenarios, making sure all family members get this.

This does apply within family contexts and also with friends and even strangers. You are teaching them valuable skills!! Keep up the good work, parents. And, I hope YOU ARE GROWING, too!

Introverted or extroverted, it doesn’t matter. We are all called to be about others, to demonstrate being interested in others, and it requires eye contact and good communication.

I hope this has been helpful. I even hope there are “ah ha” moments every now and then. Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Tomorrow is on something that you may have NEVER thought of. It’s like Advanced Training for the Restaurant Behavior!! LOL. Seriously, don’t miss it.

Rhonda youareparentingtotheheart.mamalike. ellis

4 Comments
  1. Mel

    Mrs. Rhonda, I appreciate this so very much! Thanks to your tips and mentoring among the years, I was able to implement this when taking my 20+ students out to dinner for admirable FCAT scores. Before entering the restaurant, I spent much time modeling restaurant behavior that you’ve relayed to me with your kiddos (i.e. being polite, saying “please” and “no thank you”, using inside voices, stacking plates to show respect, etc.) Although the training process is lengthy, the results produce respectful children. Truly, it’s wonderfully effective to have such mature discussions with children.

    • Rhonda

      Mel, I have certainly seen you put these skills into practice. You are an amazing teacher who has taught your kids far more important things than academic performance…character! Of course, they excel academically too. 🙂

  2. Jillian

    I never would have thought to have these types of in-depth conversations with a child as young as 2 years old. But i am certainly going to try it with my little guys! (Especially the almost 5 year old). Mel, encouraging to know you were successful with a classroom of 20. Wow!

    • Rhonda

      Hi Jillian, children at very young ages can learn so much, but each one is indeed different. Within my own six children, I have found that the maturity varies from child to child therefore the depth of conversation and maturity to understand has varied with that. So, take the examples given and adjust accordingly, expecting varying degrees of understanding. I do know, however, that the most common error is not training young enough.

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