I suspect many parents have dined out with a “misbehaving” child. First the sippy cup gets tossed aside. Next crayons are thrown on the floor. Finally, the food parents suspected their child would happily consume gets rejected and crying ensues. One has to wonder if a meal free from kitchen clean-up is worth the stress of a meal with a toddler in a restaurant.
Peaceful meals are what I want when my husband and I go out to dinner. During the first months of my daughter’s life, we brought her to restaurants in her infant carrier. People would remark at how she would interact with other patrons by smiling and waving back at them. Sometimes we’d even be lucky enough to have her doze off during our meal, giving us time to dote on each other, rather than on her.
Things changed once she began sitting up in a high chair and eating solid foods. Dinners out became challenges in entertaining her. I recall a night, when she was quite small, that she got tired of sitting in the high chair. I lifted her on to my lap. She was wiggly and started reaching towards the floor. I looked down and cringed. The floor was strewn with food. There was no way I was letting her crawl around. So instead, I sang to her. When that grew old I removed some board books from her diaper bag and let her flip through them. Eventually I excused myself from the table and walked her around the restaurant to give her a change of scenery. It was that night that I realized that getting through meals out was about being resourceful and having a bag of tricks.
Every time we go out to eat, I bring an arsenal of extra foods in a small bag so as to avoid a scene if she’s unhappy with what I order for her. I pack a combination of cubed Cheddar, raisins, animal crackers, blueberries, and Plum pouches. I always pack Cheerios, which can remedy nearly any don’t-want-to-eat-it situation. Lately I’ve started bringing crayons, paper, photo albums, board books, and small toys when I take my almost two year-old to a restaurant. Most of the time my efforts work since my daughter is still very social and likes to smile and say “hi” to other people when we eat out. However, there are occasionally times when my best laid plans don’t work. Therefore my husband or I spend part of the meal walking her around the restaurant. Or we leave without having dessert. Not the end of the world, but dessert is nice, isn’t it?
I have witnessed other adults who are able to have peaceful meals by pacifying their child. The power lies in their iPhone. The smart phones parents utilize for constant contact serve as a toddler distraction during meals out. I’ve seen many parents surrender their iPhones to their toddlers at the start of a meal as if they’re checking their luggage at the airport. Once they’re handed over, the toddler, who often has a folder for his own apps and shows, is content and quiet. There was one time I saw a family whose three children were so engrossed in their technology that the mother was literally feeding her children since they were too busy to eat. I’ve come to believe that handing a smart phone over to a kid has become the 21st century way of ensuring one’s child is seen, not heard.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I want to see and hear my daughter when I’m dining out with her. While she’s not a great conversationalist right now, I want her to become one. I think the only way this will happen is if she’s engaged with us during a meal. If I permit her watch a movie or play a game when we’re at a restaurant, then I fear I’m going to be setting a precedent. I worry she’ll come to expect my iPhone for this purpose every time we go out to dinner. I want meals to be technology-free times so we can enjoy each other’s company.
I’ve come to believe that allowing children to interact with media, rather than with people, during a meal is only going to impact them negatively as they grow up. Kids need to learn how to engage in face-to-face communication even when they don’t want to. Sitting through a meal might feel tedious to a child, but one day s/he may be sitting through business dinners. What better way to prepare them for long meals with other adults than to have them partake in family dinners where they must focus on conversation (and eating, of course)?
Do you think kids should be allowed to use smart phones during dinner? Do limit technology use at the dinner table? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.