10 Things You Can Do Right Now with Your Child at a Restaurant


Looking for alternatives to passing your child a phone or gaming device when out to eat? Here are a few quick tips on how to engage your child during your meal!

  1. Read the Whole Menu: Instead of pre-selecting a few items to read to your child as choices take time to read most of the menu with them. This is a great way to encourage the development of literacy practices as well as making them a participant in the ordering process.
  2. Let your Child Order for You and Themselves: Instead of speaking for your child allow them to order. It helps them invest in their order and allows them to practice social skills.
  3. Talk: This one is obvious, but when choosing topics of conversation, select a topic in1 which your child can participate. Ask them what they want to talk about. Children have a lot to share if they are given a chance!
  4. Create a Try-It Plate for Everyone at the Table: Make trying new foods fun, not a task. Have the whole table contribute a small sample from their order to a communal plate. Then take turns trying foods that other people ordered. When you try something “different” you are modeling this behavior for your child and encouraging them to try new things.10
  5. Guess the Object: Without revealing the object (a fork, salt shaker, pen, etc.), take turns hiding it under your napkin. Then try and guess the object based only on the shape and size.
  6. People Watching: Make up a story about other guests in the restaurant (make sure the group is out of earshot). Have your child observe the table and think about who the people might be and what they might be talking about. Picking up on social/emotional cues is a big part of your child’s development and this is a fun way to get some practice from afar.
  7. Draw: Sketch on a paper napkin, back of a check, or scrap of paper. You can even take it a step further and convert your child’s doodle into more complicated illustrations and create a story as you draw.
  8. Get up and Move: Sometimes your child just needs to get up and move: climb the stairs, take a walking tour of the restaurant, check out an open kitchen, or even just take a step outside.
  9. Pay the Check: Include your child in the paying process by allowing them to help with simple math (for example, counting a few dollars to leave for the tip) and handing off the check to the waiter. This will provide them with a feeling of responsibility and also allows them to begin to understand that goods and service have real value.
  10. Recognize When it is Time to Go: As you have probably noticed, young children have short attention spans. So, set realistic expectations and look for signs that your child is ready to move on to the next location/activity.

Have other ways you engage your child when out to eat? Please Share!