I often receive questions through my TerrificParenting.com website about eating out with kids. Typical problems center around:

kids complaining or whining before, during, or after the meal;
siblings picking or kicking at one another;
kids acting out, with demands, outbursts, or tantrums.

Each problem can be handled remarkably well with a simple, straightforward approach. Below you will see that I promote becoming parents of action – and few words – when managing problem situations.

Another secret to success in parenting is to recognize that kids require an opportunity to learn. Therefore, if you decide to use “Dr. Cale’s Restaurant Rules,” it is essential to think of it as a learning process.

It is best to view your children’s responses to these new rules just as you would view their response to learning a new sport: They need opportunities to practice and learn. Once you have put these powerful strategies into place, you will need to PLAN on two to five meals out that are “training trips.” During each trip, the kids will learn that you are serious and that these new rules come with consequences. (If you have more than one child, it will be easier if you have another adult with you during these “training trips.”) After that … – peaceful eating ahead!

Dr. Cale’s Restaurant Rules For Kids

We only eat in peace. You get one warning…, and it’s “Strike One.”
You explain to the kids that they will be free to eat in the restaurant, as long as there is no complaining, whining, hitting, kicking, yelling, or tantruming. The first – and ONLY THE FIRST – time you see the kids start to get out-of-hand, let them know, “It’s Strike One.”

When you don’t eat in peace, you leave for Strike Two.
If they break rule #1, Mom or Dad will walk them to the car immediately to have a time-out in the car. Let them know the specific details: There must be five minutes of quiet before you return to the restaurant. Remind your child, “Strike Two. One more, and you are out.”

When you don’t eat in peace again, Strike Three and you are out!
Again, the child and a parent return to the car and wait until everyone else is done. It’s Strike Three, and NO FOOD is taken home for the child/children sitting in the car for Strike Three. Allow them to skip this meal. They will be fine…, and they will begin to learn that you are serious about your new rules.

Repeat this several times.
Most kids understand that you are serious the first time you follow through. Yet, some of you have more challenging kids. They may need additional trips to the car before they realize you are serious. Stay consistent. They will get it… if you also keep in mind the “Parent Restaurant Rules.”

Restaurant Rules for Parents

Don’t do this unless you are serious.
You don’t want to put new rules in place unless you mean business; it undermines your credibility and your effectiveness.

Be consistent.
Regardless of the situation, or your level of fatigue, be consistent. Follow through, not expecting immediate perfection. Do expect your kids to learn from the consequences – not the threat of consequences. That’s IMPORTANT!

Don’t nag, lecture, remind, and constantly correct.
In other words, don’t keep investing your energy in the very behaviors you don’t want! Instead, just ignore the little stuff; focus your attention elsewhere when the small stuff is present.

Become obsessed with noticing the kids when they are pleasant and appropriate.
Notice when they are reading, talking quietly, or drawing a picture. Just a smile, or a touch, or a nod WHILE they are doing what you want. Invest your energy in what you cherish and value – in small and consistently subtle ways. In this way, healthy behavior can grow.

Follow the rules impeccably.
When the kids’ behavior has broken the rule, give one – only one – warning. Let them know…”It’s Strike One.”

Then, when they fail to eat in peace, it’s out to the car immediately… – even if the hot food just arrived…; send it back and remain impeccable in your follow-through. If it’s two kids, then out to the car with both of them.

This is how kids learn: Not from your threats…, but from actually FEELING the consequences. So don’t expect a mastery of the rules…; expect mastery only when the kids have had several opportunities to learn from the consequences of the new rules.

You can learn more about this topic at www.TerrificParenting.com.

Randy L. Cale, Ph.D.