The first order of business when taking preschoolers out to eat is to come prepared. Plan ahead for this experience in the same way you would plan for a transatlantic flight or a weekend at your Great Aunt Edna's who never had children. Remember, if they're happy, you're happy. So don't hold back. Toys, coloring books, storybooks with flaps to open, miniature puzzles, Silly Putty, Lego bricks, glow sticks, crayons and card games are all great ideas to keep on hand. You might even keep that magical bag of tricks stocked at all times so you can just grab and go.
Make sure to keep in mind your children's schedule when you make dinner plans. If your preschoolers are due for a nap or it's close to bedtime, chances are their behavior will reflect that. Keep everyone on their best behavior by going out when your children are well-rested and feeling fresh.
The truth is, no matter how prepared you are, your children may still behave like monkeys at a pie-eating contest. Instead of fighting the madness, join in! Take the time to see what they are interested in and talk to them about it. Don't just expect them to play independently with the toys you brought; play with them. If they seem antsy, take them on a walk through the restaurant while you are waiting for your food and pretend you are on an undercover spy mission to find Planet Zoomba. Or the restroom. Whichever comes first. You might even play silly games like What Animal Am I Thinking Of and Restaurant Bingo.
Remember, bribes are always better than threats. Instead of spending the whole dinner threatening your children with the naughty chair, try offering them a special treat ahead of time for good behavior. Anything will do — a favorite dessert, a lollipop, a small toy or an extra book at bedtime. As they get older, their behavior will naturally improve. Don't worry, you won't still be promising them an after-dinner lollipop at the age of 15, (hopefully).
No matter how wonderful your children are, sometimes things just don't go according to plan. If you are stuck at a restaurant with a long wait or they get your order wrong, remember to be realistic. Preschoolers have a window of approximately 30-45 minutes in a restaurant before they get bored and antsy, no matter how many entertaining tricks you bring along. Don't push your luck. The last thing you want is to have a toddler in a middle of a full-scale tantrum right when your food arrives. Stay flexible and everyone in the family will have a good time.
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