How many times have you found yourself in the same scenario? You’re about to sit down to dinner at a casual but intimate restaurant. The wine is flowing freely. You’re content. Your spouse is content. You’re about to tuck into your favorite meal when it begins. Two tables away. The whining. The bawling. The screaming. You wonder how to keep your toddler busy.

The next thing you know, that perfectly romantic mood is spoiled. And there’s nothing you can do about because… well, this is a casual but intimate restaurant after all. And it’s something you’re just going to have to deal with.

Now imagine if the shoe is on the other foot and it’s your child spoiling the atmosphere for other diners.

How to keep your toddler busy?

There’s no question that keeping a toddler entertained when dining out gives parents a source of dilemma or embarrassment for parents. Attention spans vary drastically for children.  In unfamiliar environments such as restaurants, they get more distracted. New sights, aromas, and tastes. It can all be overwhelming to a toddler—particularly if they’re not accustomed to sitting in place for more than a handful of minutes.

For many parents, dining out is a luxury they indulge in far too little during their child’s formative years. And sharing food is one of the ways family can come together and strengthen bonds. But these days, it takes more than a pack of crayons and a coloring placemat to keep a toddler occupied at a restaurant.

Here are a few tips that can appease both your child and other patrons when dining out.

1. Be Selective About Your Establishment

The Michelin star haute cuisine restaurant you fell in love with when you were first dating is likely not going to be the most comfortable place for a toddler. But family dining doesn’t have to mean fast food, either. These days, there’s a plethora of convenient choices for dining in a family-friendly atmosphere that can be just as fun. Some cater for adults as they are for children—in particular at local independently-owned restaurants (who are frequently managed by parents themselves, who know and sympathize with finding high quality family dining).

2. Transform Waiting Time Into Learning Time

If you don’t like the idea of waiting over an hour for your meal, imagine how your child feels! What better opportunity to use your time to help them learn? Simple arithmetic can be taught by counting the sugar packets in a container.

Restaurants are a great way to teach a toddler about shapes and colors. In fact, many family restaurants frequently offer board games which teach just that—helping to transform eating into an educational experience that’s fun for all!

3. Time Out Doesn’t Have To Mean Punishment

Toddlers frequently seem like they’re inexhaustible bundles of energy. And keeping them cooped up in a high chair is rarely going to calm them down. Rather than aggravating their frustration and causing a commotion for other diners, take them out for a few minutes of fresh air.

Many restaurants now offer designated play areas near their parking lot for toddlers to let loose some of that excess steam. There’s no reason to keep your child pent up when they can get plenty of exercise while you wait for your food!

4. Keep A Goodie Bag Handy

Don’t necessarily rely on a restaurant to hand your kids crayons and a coloring book. As a precaution, keep a small bag full of crayons, drawing paper, books and small toys handy to amuse your toddler while you wait. Avoid electronic devices, such as smartphones and games.

Part of the fun of dining out with your family is giving your child the opportunity to interact with a new environment, and you don’t want to rob them of a new experience simply for the sake of convenience.

5. Place Your Order Quickly

While it’s tempting and thoughtful to place your child’s order ahead of yours, this isn’t always the best idea. For one, they could finish their food while you’re still waiting for yours, which could result in boredom and restlessness. For another, part of the experience of dining out as a family is that it’s a group effort, and one that everyone should participate in at the same time.

You don’t have to rush in and out, mind you. But be aware that a toddler will not have the same patience you will—particularly when it comes to settling a check. Be thoughtful, but be cognizant of being prompt. A family meal should never take several hours. Your child won’t appreciate it. And as a result? There’s a strong chance other diners won’t, as well.

Keep Your Toddler Busy

Learn more techniques and tips on how to keep your children busy when you visit Handprints Academy.