How to Help Toddlers Behave in Restaurants: 7 Steps - MakeSureHow
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She's smiling because it's almost time to pay the bill.

Toddlers and restaurants go together like a fork and an eye. Ideally, eating out is a relaxing and enjoyable pastime, but add a toddler to the mix and you have a recipe for frustration. You'll be so busy distracting him with silly faces and avoiding the disapproving glares of other diners that relaxation will be the last thing on your mind. And that's before the waiter even takes your order. Be that as it may, sometimes you've just got to do it, and there are steps you can take to make the experience less torturous.


  1. 1
    Plan ahead. Choose a family-friendly establishment, the kind with a treasure-chest of dollar-store toys for departing kiddies. If there's a basket of lollipops at the checkout, you're golden. The staff at family restaurants understand the importance of getting families with toddlers in and out as quickly as possible, for the sanity of everyone involved.
  2. 2
    Explain to your little one where you'll be going and what your expectations are. She may be pint-sized and have limited verbal skills, but she understands more than she lets on. Be clear. Tell her you're going to a restaurant, and you expect her to behave herself by using her indoor voice and sitting nicely at the table. Be consistent, so she won't test the limits. If she starts climbing under the table, plop her back in her seat. Do this over and over if you have to.
  3. 3
    Pack well. As a parent of a toddler, you're already accustomed to lugging around everything but the kitchen sink. Bring books, toys, coloring pages, crayons and snacks. Yes, snacks. Whatever you do, don't take a hungry toddler to a restaurant and expect sunshine and unicorns. Giving her crackers and grapes while she waits will buy you some much-needed time and keep her mouth busy. If she can't finish her meal because of it, that's what take-home containers are for.
  4. 4
    Move loose items on the table out of his reach -- candles, salt and pepper shakers, ketchup bottles, anything you don't want tossed on the floor. Keep your drinks out of reach, too. If there's a tablecloth, you might ask the server if it's okay to remove it.
  5. 5
    Walk your toddler around the restaurant to temporarily subdue the ants in his pants. Of course, this depends on the restaurant and how busy it is; you don't want to be getting in the way of overworked servers. But if the atmosphere is pretty laid back, do the circuit with him for a few minutes before your food is delivered -- you might just get a small reprieve from fidgetiness when you return to your table. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone thinks your precious munchkin is as hard-to-resist as you do. When he stops to babble to a young couple on a date, it's probably best to keep him moving along.
  6. 6
    Praise good behavior to help your toddler understand which of her actions you're on board with. If she's sitting quietly coloring her Dora picture, tell her what a wonderful job she's doing. Let her know that when you get home, you'll be hanging her masterpiece on the fridge.
  7. 7
    Discipline him gently and carefully so as to avoid an epic toddler meltdown. You can't be a pushover, but neither can you sit him in a time-out and ignore his screams of injustice. If he misbehaves, let him know you understand his feelings. Explain the rule and consequences for breaking the rule in simple language, and offer alternatives. For example, when he starts banging the table with his cracker container and singing "Old McDonald" at the top of his lungs, tell him you know it's hard to sit still and be quiet, but in a restaurant, that's what he needs to do. Inform him that if he continues that behavior, you'll take away his crackers and he won't have them anymore. Then tell him if he wants to sing, he can whisper a song with you. Then promise yourself you won't take him to a restaurant again until he's at least 4 years old. Or maybe 40.


  • Never take a hungry or tired toddler out in public if you can help it.

Things You'll Need

  • Snacks
  • Toys
  • Books
  • Coloring materials

Article Info

Categories: Education and Communications

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