Ed's Lessons

Ed's Lessons

Tips for Eating Out with Kids

Family, mother, father and child eating at a restaurant

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Parenting is a tough job

Parenting is a tough job that comes with huge responsibility. The responsibility of a parent is to make tough decisions, often decisions that are unpopular.

One of those decisions is to limit screen time. It’s a tough decision to make, but someone has to do it. The reason parents make tough decisions is because we care.

When we’re dining out, it’s easy just to give in and keep our kids quiet with a screen. But is it in their best interest? Ultimately as loving parents we want what is best for our children, not for us, but for our children.

Children on devices in public spaces

Earlier this week whilst out for dinner at a family friendly eatery, I observed two different families with their children, and both triggered me!

In both instances, children were watching and playing on devices.


The first family was a young family with a gorgeous little boy of about 8 or 9 months. This child was as quiet as a mouse. The reason for his quietness? His mother was busy holding her mobile phone up for him to watch what appeared to be children’s show or video.


When they were at the table waiting for their food order to arrive, the little boy became a little niggly and immediately the phone was brought out again for him to watch.


Being the nosey parker that I am when it comes to children, I quickly scanned the child’s pushchair, not a toy, or book in sight to keep him occupied.


Nor did the parents at any time, put him on either of their laps and interact with him.  In fact, the parents hardly even spoke to each other!


The second family had two young kids aged about 6 and 8. What were the children doing? You guessed it! Each on an ipad!


The boy was playing some kind of game and I couldn’t see what the girl was watching. Once again, the same scenario was playing out. No one was talking to each other except for the odd word here and there.


Obviously, I have no back story. I don’t know what these families were doing prior to coming into the restaurant and how they interact with their children outside of this experience. But let’s assume this is their normal modus operandi (which I fear is probably true based on the feedback I receive from my students).

What are some of the negative effects of having children on devices in a public setting like a restaurant?

·      In both cases the parents were removed from the situation – there was little to no interaction. Language and communication were neglected. The one phenomenon that we teachers are seeing more and more with each passing year is that children’s oral language is deteriorating. Unless children are exposed to language and included in conversations to learn how to express themselves accurately, and to listen, is it any wonder that the oral language of children is deteriorating?

·      Children were not learning to entertain themselves. Now you might say that the kids on the ipads were entertaining themselves, but in reality, the visuals on the ipad were entertaining them, they were not creating anything for themselves. They were mere onlookers, sucked in by screens. The opportunity to observe the world around them or learn social cues was lost.

·      There are times when quiet and patience are required. We do not need to be entertained every minute of every day. It’s the constant bombardment of stimulus that is the cause of so much stress in our own lives and the lives of our children. By being on devices, children were not learning patience or the art of waiting or simply being present.

·      Good old fashioned table manners were not being learned. The table is no place for an electronic device. There are several studies that highlight the benefits of eating together as a family and the powerful benefits that sharing a meal has on the development of a child, not withstanding learning basic social cues and learning how to behave at a table, whether in a public space like a restaurant or in or own homes.


The effects of screens on children’s development

There are plentiful studies that conclude that too much time on devices affects children’s social, language and brain development in several detrimental ways. Here is an article that explores many of the researched dangers of too much screen time.

In fact, the Australian Governments Physical Activity guidelines outline the amount of exercise children should be getting per day. The guidelines state that:

·      Children younger than 2 years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media

·      Children 2 to 5 years of age should be limited to less than one hour per day on electronic media (that includes TV)

·      Children 5 to12 years of age should not spend more than two hours a day using electronic media (that includes TV) for entertainment.


Top Tips for what to do with kids when you are out in public spaces

 When we are out in public, we all like our children to behave in appropriate ways so as not to draw negative attention to ourselves. There will always be times when our children will misbehave, that’s normal they are after all still learning.


Is there anything we as parents can do to ensure that our time out in public is pleasant and relatively free of drama?


The following tried and tested advice certainly worked for our family.

* Make sure you have healthy snacks for little ones and that your youngsters are fed and watered before going out. Hunger and low blood sugar levels can be a major cause of tantrums and undesirable behaviour. Never go out in public with a tired and hungry child, so make sure you get your timing right.


* ALWAYS, ALWAYS, set your expectations before entering a public space, or when you’re visiting someone, or going to church or the supermarket or using public transport. Let your child know exactly what you expect from them. Be explicit and direct in your expectations. Once your child knows the boundaries and what is expected of them, they are much more likely to behave appropriately. Your conversation may go something like this: We are going into a restaurant, I expect you to sit nicely, use your table manners and talk quietly. You can take in your pencils and colouring-in book/ Boredom Buster Bag if you would like something to do if the wait is too long.

Make sure you ALWAYS praise their positive behaviour and tell them how proud you are that they were able to use good manners and behave appropriately.


* Always take some non-screen entertainment with, especially for younger children. A bag with your child’s favourite toy, a book, some colouring pencils, and paper. Check out my Boredom Buster Bag ideas in this post


* Play a game of I Spy when you are in a restaurant waiting for your order or even in the car… it keeps then busy for ages, and you can change the game up to suit the ages of your child. Some examples could be:

  •    “I spy something beginning with the letter…”
  •  “I spy something (insert a colour) …”
  •   “I spy something that begins with a … sound” which will be great for encouraging phonological awareness which of course is a future indicator of reading and writing success.

* Engage with your child while you are out. Draw their attention to what is around them, so that they become aware of their surroundings – great for stimulating curiosity which is so important for learning.


Parenting is hard, but so incredibly rewarding. Children always want to please us, and they thrive on praise, and if we as the adults make the tough choices when children are young, not only will they grow to be pleasant young people that will be a pleasure to have around, but also skilful communicators who are aware of the world around them and know how to navigate the obstacles they will no doubt face in their future.

Good luck!

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