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When do meals out get easier?

(23 Posts)
matana Thu 13-Jun-13 14:40:37

Having just endured a meal out with my parents during which ds (2.6) fidgeted, climbed, played with his food, jumped up and down, banged his cutlery on the table and generally messed about so much that I eventually had to give him a time out, can someone please tell me when it gets easier? Or doesn't it?

We do all the things people have advised, such as taking small toys to keep him occupied etc, but he is a ridiculously high energy, low attention span, must-touch-everything he shouldnt touch kind of personality that makes meals out really stressful. I can't even say it was because he was sat there too long because it started as soon as we sat down.

Advice, tips, reassurance, empathy all welcome!

Marvin6418 Thu 13-Jun-13 16:43:45

One word helped us. Practice.

Our DS used to be like this alot. We found that by making sure our meals at home were up the table and together as much as we could. This really helped teach my DS the manners and ways to behave. We also tried was practice at dinner times pretending we were in a restaurant when we were all eating at the table. We put on silly voices and called him sir. "Sir your table is ready", "is everything okay with your food sir" and made light of it.

We found it really helped making sure he felt relaxed sitting at a table with us while we were eating and joining him in conversations, talking to him lots and making him feel good about sitting with us.

It did take some time, but we found it really helped. Especially if we knew we were going out we would say tomorrow we are going to eat out, like eating at the table at home but more fun and gave him plenty of time to know that he needed to behave as he would at home. Practice.

JiltedJohnsJulie Thu 13-Jun-13 16:44:04

Think this sounds pretty normal, would he be quiet if you let him play with your phone?

Redtractoryellowtractor Thu 13-Jun-13 16:58:47

Presumably this is not posh dining, just a meal in a pub/cafe/family restaurant? I take my son out for regular walks, to see stuff, let him wander about/keep him entertained. He's also 2 and a half and there's no way I am engaging in a battle of trying to keep him in a high chair.

Do you keep him in a high chair or have you tried giving him a seat of his own? My son is definitely a lot better at staying in his seat if it's not the high-chair. I have come to the conclusion that some kids are quite happy to sit at a table and eat and others aren't. my son is one of those who isn't.

I hate having to go to meals out with family, particularly pubs as I know my son will just be bored with it all. Maybe you could suggest eating out somewhere where you can have the meal outside, with some space fro kids to play?

cornflakegirl Thu 13-Jun-13 17:46:57

My elder son likes food and would happily sit still at a table at that sort of age (with appropriate entertainment). My younger son is coming up to 4 and not that bothered about food, and is still a pain to take to restaurants. We do make him stay at the table at home till everyone is finished (but wouldn't have done at 2.6), and he is improving as he gets older, but it's still not fun for him.

If I want to meet up with someone for a meal, I try to either invite them to our house or go for somewhere with a play area. For a bigger family do, I'd go with the phone option.

Tee2072 Thu 13-Jun-13 17:49:09

Did you not bring anything for him to do? I always have cars/small planes/etc with me when we eat out. Have done so since son was a tiny baby.

Also, one parent eats quickly so he can go for a walk with them if necessary while other parent enjoys their food. We alternate who does which.

Tigresswoods Thu 13-Jun-13 18:19:48

DS is 3.3 & we have the same issues. Meals out are a nightmare! We take books to read him while we wait & ensure drinks arrive the same time as food so he doesn't fill up on juice & then fails to eat. We don't hang around.

It's no fun for us but sometimes you have to eat out. As someone above said he's just not that bothered about food so doesn't want to sit & eat. I'm sure it'll improve one day.

confusedofengland Thu 13-Jun-13 18:54:31

-I think it largely depends on the child. DS1, who is 4.6, has always been more than happy to sit at a restaurant/pub for 1-2 hours, without any toys (never been organised enough for that blush). He does love his food, though!

DS2, 26 mos, is also a big foodie, but is not quite as good at restaurants. He will still last a 2-hour meal if not tired, but needs to have something to do - maybe breadsticks to chew on, a tissue to 'wipe' the table with, some crayons & paper or preferably a run outside while waiting for the first course (but we don't get down from the table between courses, except for the toilet)

matana Thu 13-Jun-13 22:18:09

He no longer sits in a high chair. I thought that by giving him more freedom he might behave better.

No, it wasn't posh nosh, just a Harvester. I brought play-do, crayons, his train and magnetic horse puzzle to try to keep him entertained. Toys just do not hold his attention and he's the same at home. Would much rather be figuring out how the dvd player works, or washing machine etc than play with toys.

He has always loved food, and sits down to meals with others at his cm's, and we try to eat as a family when at home etc. His cm says he behaves the same at hers and also puts it down to his high energy.I just wonder if he's still too young to deal with the freedom of sitting in a chair like a big boy and naybecwe should go back to a high chair for a few months. It's just I don't know any other toddlers his age who still need a high chair so feel a bit conscious of it.

matana Thu 13-Jun-13 22:20:30

Oh and dh was at work, usualky we take it in turns as Tee says.

Shiraztastic Thu 13-Jun-13 22:26:53

An hour and a half running around the park immediately beforehand wink. If you wan them to sit still during the meal, do not expect them to sit still immediately before or afterwards (eg in a car for any length of time).

Tigresswoods Thu 13-Jun-13 22:28:29

Weird. My DS is pretty ambivalent towards toys too. He "thinks" he likes them but he hardly plays with any. I've seen other kids his age, they play & stuff. He'd rather be jumping (bouncing) around the house or outside riding something on wheels.

fififrog Thu 13-Jun-13 22:30:07

My DD is younger (2.3) but just wanted to say she is by choice very much still in a high chair. Frankly I find it hard to cope when she isn't as she stands up, tries to climb on the table etc generally gets more distracted. I find she is much better behaved in a high chair. At home she has a booster seat and often asks to be strapped in! If we go out for lunch I would generally let her have a wander though. Have you tried scissors as a distraction tool? DD is very into cutting stuff up (with plastic scissors 2 pairs for 48p from Morrisons) and I'm amazes how it holds her normally very short attention.

Tigresswoods Thu 13-Jun-13 22:35:13

I like the scissors tip!

Splatt34 Thu 13-Jun-13 22:45:51

one word - ipad
DD is 2.7. She is mostly very well.behaved in restaurants. We go out for tea/ lunch/ coffee often and she first went to a restaurant at about 2 weeks of age. She is therefore very used to it, but i do take the i-pad just incase. It has games & tv shows on it & between these she is kept occupied if she's not happy talking with us.

TheYamiOfYawn Thu 13-Jun-13 22:59:51

I found eating out very stressful when mine between around 18 months and 4. My youngest is 3 and a half, and is generally delightful over cake in a cafe, but hard work for a proper meal, but I am fairly sure that he'll be able to sit through a meal out fairly soon.

3boys3dogshelp Thu 13-Jun-13 23:09:34

My eldest was never really bothered by toys either, but he loves playing with my phone so I have a few games just for him. He is only allowed to play them occasionally at times like this or doctor's waiting room etc.
We always ask for our boy's food to be brought with asap rather than waiting for ours to be ready which seems to help. Oh and we go out a bit earlier than we would usually eat as I find my youngest gets a bit irrational if he is hungry!!
Ours are 4 and 3 now and I would say the last 3 months things seem to have fallen into place and life is getting a bit easier. We have just come back from our first relaxing holiday since ds1 was born! Stick with it-he will get the idea soon.

I have a DS a similar age who sounds the same. we went for lunch in a cafe yesterday and he did exactly this - a few months ago it might have bothered me but I've been watching a lot of parents and toddlers when out and about recently...I've seen parents telling their children off on a constant loop 'don't do that dear' 'sit properly' 'not like that' 'what are you DOING', I've seen them ignore their kids completely, I've also seen them smack, swear and threaten their children with violence (the other end of the scale perhaps), I've seen them fidget and get stressed and look embarrassed when their child is just doing normal toddler stuff. I've seen toddlers screaming, shouting, swearing, running around tables when their parents are eating, throwing food and fighting.

and I've sat back and taken an objective view on us - DS watching others, eating his food but taking time to enjoy it by studying it carefully. sometimes he uses a fork (and might bang it on the table or twirl it round) sometimes his fingers, sometimes he uses a straw to drink (and chews on it until it's unusable) and sometimes it gets spilled. there's often food on the floor when he's finished (I pick it up at the end and leave it on his plate), he takes a while and he doesn't sit still or on his chair (highchair so he actually sits in a chair) 'properly' - he plays with his food and gets distracted easily but you know what? he's a kid, that's what they do!

but he is polite, he engages in conversation with us, he tries new foods occasionally, he smiles at strangers, he laughs. I tell him off if he gets too loud or fidgety but mostly I sit and eat and I observe.

the trick I think is to lower expectations to an age appropriate level. unless your child is charging about the restaurant or creating a riot then I can guarantee nobody is judging you (and if they are so what?) - the drill in this family for meals out is: walk or play first, decide where to eat beforehand so we're not searching while hungry, get in, sit down, order. find something for DS to play with while we're waiting, make sure he's not ignored. eat, don't attempt a long adult conversation and get out when DS shows signs of having had enough of behaving (different for every child but he starts to get a bit more loud and difficult to engage with) - this is almost always before the adults have had enough time there...I know from experience that if we leave it too long things are going to get nasty!

I think what I'm saying is that the things you're describing sound pretty normal for his age and I don't think there's any reason to be overly worried about it. he will get better at it in time. it's all practice and it will improve. I'm starting to care less what people think and by watching how the average parent and child behave I'm realising we've got things pretty good! we had an experience similar to yours yesterday and I considered it a roaring success!

I spent my whole childhood being told off constantly at the dinner table for every tiny thing and I never really enjoyed family meals. I want DS to enjoy them so although at home I try and enforce a few table manners, I keep it brief ('the knife doesn't go in your mouth, it's sharp' , 'yes I know you're finished but the rest of us are still eating so you need to sit at the table until we're all done) - when I'm out and about I try and prepare for it and just enjoy it, and have a good idea of normal toddler behaviour - they don't sit still for long! grin

tumbletumble Fri 14-Jun-13 07:56:06

OP, have you read Why French Children Don't Throw Food? I'm halfway through at the moment and finding it an interesting read - and it seems relevant to this thread!

Our method is to go to a pub near us which has outside space. There isn't a slide or play area or anything, but it's near a railway line and there are planes overhead so DS2 (age 3.8) is in heaven! The DC are allowed to run around outside (even if it's chilly and we're sitting inside) until the food arrives, but they have to sit nicely while we're actually eating. I also bring books, but agree little toys have never really held their attention.

mejon Fri 14-Jun-13 14:05:49

We're meant to be going out for lunch on Sunday and I had almost made up my mind to leave 2.4yo DD2 at home with my mum as she is often quite impossible at mealtimes - yesterday was incredibly difficult and I eventually threw her dinner away. Thanks to these stories here - and especially to Nicecupoftea, I realise her behaviour is normal. She's a gorgeous, affectionate child otherwise and I love her to bits so I've already packed some stickers and crayons in the change-bag so I don't forget them.

mejon Fri 14-Jun-13 14:08:57

We're meant to be going out for lunch on Sunday and I had almost made up my mind to leave 2.4yo DD2 at home with my mum as she is often quite impossible at mealtimes - yesterday was incredibly difficult and I eventually threw her dinner away. Thanks to these stories here - and especially to Nicecupoftea, I realise her behaviour is normal. She's a gorgeous, affectionate child otherwise and I love her to bits so I've already packed some stickers and crayons in the change-bag so I don't forget them.

mejon Fri 14-Jun-13 14:09:15


matana Fri 14-Jun-13 14:20:25

Wow, thanks all. I think I have realised that ds is a very normal toddler after all. I have to say that we do tend to try to eat outside as often as possible, weather permitting of course, and dh and I will regularly eat at a lovely pub by a boating lake, complete with climbing frame and slide. When I look back some of the best, most relaxed and enjoyable meals out are those when we just let ds be a normal toddler. But I will not tolerate him running around disturbing other people in restaurants and do think it's my job to discourage bad behaviour. I try to do this calmly for the most part, but did lose it with him the other day.

I also realise that I'm very fortunate that he eats pretty much anything you put in front of him, so that is another positive I should focus on.

I like the idea of tiring him out a bit first by letting him run around. He really is a free spirit who loves being outdoors, so I will embrace that.

I am not too keen on the idea of reading why french children don't throw food, though I will be watching closely because we are going on holiday to France on Monday. I think it helps not to have high expectations and we also know that when we are calm and relaxed, so too is ds.

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