Family & Social Child Developement
Eating out with kids (without phones and tablets!)
Phones and other electronic devices are a boon with fussy children, particularly when eating. The diversion is sometimes so addictive and so easy to implement that it slowly turns into a default go-to measure especially when dining out. There are many studies showing that the combination of screen time and meal time as a routine prevents a mindful experience and family bonding, but what can you do as a parent to help your kids break out of this addictive and harmful pattern?
Lead by example
Children do what children see. Keep your phones away for the duration of the meal. Make it a challenge. Who can go the longest without a device? Out of sight can also help keep the attraction out of mind. Encourage children to interact face to face, and by setting an example, you are paving the way to a device free family mealtime.
Use the extras
Many restaurants in Singapore have kid friendly play areas or activities. Let your child explore them. It may be a simple puzzle on the placemat, board games, bouncy castles, arts & crafts trampolines or a petting zoo. Plan ahead by choosing child-friendly restaurants, explore and have a peaceful dining experience while your child has a blast.
A well-rested child is a well-behaved child
Late nights and odd sleep patterns make for cranky children. Before you plan a meal outside, make sure the little one has had enough sleep and rest and the mealtime does not interfere with the regular napping schedule. A great time to eat out would be during a weekend brunch, for example. A nap before a restaurant outing is often enough to make sure they are calm and don't need the help of a device to soothe themselves. Toddlers cannot be expected to sit quietly for more than 15 minutes, so do not fret when a child needs constant entertainment.
Sometimes all it takes is crayons and a sheet of paper. It is often fun to create a small and attractive activity bag for kids to carry. Fill it with their favourites things to do. It could be a small box of blocks or puzzles, play dough, flash cards, draw and wipe slates etc. If you forget the activity bag, try sorting the cutlery or condiment sachets into sizes or colours. Let your kids make up a story about Mr Spoon and his neighbour Ms Plate till the food arrives.
Trick or Treat
Sometimes the tantrums may get too much to handle, particularly in a public setting. For younger children, locking the phone and claiming a technical glitch or switching off and saying the battery is dead often does the trick. For older children who can make out these little white lies, try a treat. Either something that they like a favourite dish or a book. If everything else fails, set boundaries. Promise fifteen minutes of screen time in exchange for a fun and together family meal.
Train a foodie
Do you love eating out and trying out different things? Why not share the enthusiasm with your child. Weave a story about the food they are about to eat- how it is cooked or sourced; describe the tastes or textures to make them want to try it. Inculcate an appreciation of food; it is the basis of most cultures in Asia and a wonderful way to show your children its importance.
For older kids, this works as a charm. Include them in the conversations you are having. Ask them for opinions about their day or even a simple, what did you like on your plate? Make sure that the conversations the adults are having is child friendly and can be followed easily.
In our technology saturated world, making mealtimes a device free experience is tough, not just for kids, but for parents too! Although you might face some challenges, keep trying and don't give up. Having dinners where everybody is engaged with each other will create a stronger family bond and will impart important social skills to your children in the long run.
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