If you’ve ever travelled in France, you would be amazed to see the good table manners of most of the kids : They stay seated and don’t run around the table or play peek-a-boo under the table, eat with their fork and knife not with their fingers, ask politely and thank the wait staff, drink neatly from their cup and don’t spill their soda, keep their voice down, have a nice conversation and don’t play with the sugar packets or their silverware. How do they do that? Well, it is not something you teach your kids in one day, but this is something you can start as soon as they are sitting in their high chair and starting to eat by themselves.
Being a mother of three children, two of them born in France, as well as a former preschool teacher and daycare owner, I taught my kids to eat with their spoon (and not with their fingers) as soon as they were able to sit. Of course, at first it is messy, but if you keep on asking them to eat properly and don’t give up, they will learn faster than you think. Table manners are not taught to a 2 year old at the restaurant, they have to be demonstrated early at home. I read so many times, and heard so many times, that you should start feeding your child with finger food so that it is much easier for your baby to learn self feeding, and always thought this was wrong. It doesn’t teach any table manners but definitely will make him a good guest at fast food restaurants only! Finger food is good for a snack on-the-go, not for a meal.
Even if your first dinner out with him is in a fast food restaurant, you should keep these good manners and keep him as much as possible from running around the tables : he can eventually go play in the play area once he is done with his meal, but not pick a piece and go back to play… A meal is a social gathering that people share.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT RESTAURANT
I would suggest you not to pick a fast food restaurant, but a family-friendly place offering a kids menu. Keep the fancy restaurant for a date night without the kid.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME
If your child naps between 1 and 3 pm for example, do not wait 8 pm to go out! If he is exhausted, this is a recipe for disaster. You have to plan around your child’s regular sleep schedule not around your own schedule.
ORDER AND EAT AT THE SAME TIME
Order your kid’s meal when you order yours and ask to be served at the same time. If you ask that your child be served as soon as possible and before you, he might be done when you start your meal, leaving you no choice but to gobble quickly the rest of your dinner, before he gets bored. Once your order has been taken, you can give your child a small snack (or ask for some bread) that will keep him busy and not starving while waiting to be served.
BRING A “BAG OF TRICKS”
Finger puppets, sorting toys, small books, toys with no sound (even if you are in an inexpensive family restaurant the other customers have the right to enjoy their meals in a relative peace), works great to keep them busy when they are not eating.
BE FIRM, BE CURTEOUS
No child is perfect, stays quiet and neat. This is something he has to learn with practice, each time you are going to eat out. If your child starts a tantrum, cries, starts throwing his silverware or take off his shirt, you should immediately take him outside and explain him firmly that he cannot reenter the restaurant unless he calms down. If he cannot settle down, you might have to take your meal out and eat at home. Just try again another time. And don’t forget to show your own good manners by apologizing to the other tables if your child was a disturbance!
Oh, and I almost forgot : if you need to change your child diaper, avoid doing it on the table (I’m not kidding!) and lock the dirty diaper in a plastic bag so that other customers don’t have to smell it when they use the toilets!