I was perusing a parenting message board today, and some parents of toddlers were commiserating about how difficult it is to eat at a restaurant now that they have a mobile and inquisitive child. I'm thankful that Jack isn't quite to the point where dinner out is an all-out screamfest, but clearly the behavior that the parents were describing wasn't out of the ordinary: trying to stand in the high chair, yelling inappropriately and throwing food were all common experiences. Toddlers like to explore and expand their boundaries through vocalization and physical play. Requiring them to sit quietly for a meal really is asking a lot, and I'd never judge the parents who say that they prefer to stay home because eating at a restaurant is far more work than it is an enjoyable experience.
One mom chimed in with a response that met with some favor on the message board, but which made me raise an eyebrow: she said that they kept their toddler amused by bringing along a portable DVD player to the restaurant. Her daughter would sit for at least thirty minutes if she had a movie to watch.
I was astounded. Television has little place in a young child's life, but it has no place at a restaurant. Yet that mom wasn't alone in her thought - this article suggests that a portable DVD player can make a restaurant outing with a toddler "very enjoyable."
Maybe I'll eat my words on this. Maybe the moms of older toddlers are reading this post and shaking their heads at my naivety. Maybe six months from now I'll be heading to Target, heart filled with shame, to buy our own portable DVD player. Or, maybe it really is ridiculous to plug your kid into some electronic entertainment at every opportunity.
I totally realize that I write this from an ivory tower. My toddler likes to explore, but he is a new toddler: he isn't at the age where he needs to assert his independence much, and I know that may change someday soon. But even when he is two, or three, I won't expect him to sit quietly at the dinner table while my husband and I carry on among ourselves. Jack is a member of our family and dinner time is a time that we are together as a family. When we are out for dinner, we play games with Jack at the dinner table. We make maracas out of salt shakers, we play peek a boo with menus. We talk about the colors and shapes and patterns of the restaurant decor. We play with the toys that we've brought. We share our food with him (TGIFriday's Dragonfire Chicken is Jack's favorite restaurant meal). And we never, ever pick a quiet restaurant for dinner: the more boisterous and busy the place, the more acceptable an occasional squeal of excitement will be. Dan and I get our adult conversations in too, but we always, always include Jack. We keep him engaged. We enjoy him.
This has been a Judgmental Post from Monkey Butt Junction.
For some smart, non-electronic ways to keep your toddler busy during dinner, check out this list of suggestions.
Study: Increased television watching in toddlers is linked to struggles in school