Dinner time is a special time in my family. Like many families, it is the time where we sit around, discuss our day, laugh, talk and have the occasional spelling bee. It’s the one time of day where we are unencumbered with work, cell phones, TV and everything else except the melodic sounds of our barking dogs. When we go out to eat, we try to have the same atmosphere (with the exception of the barking dogs, of course). I have always been annoyed when I have been in a restaurant and see families not talking, staring at their cell phones, kids watching DVDs or listening to iPods…it’s still mealtime. Just because it’s in a restaurant doesn’t mean that it’s still not a family meal.

But then, one day, we became one of those families.

It was not too long ago. We were sitting in a restaurant that was crowded and understaffed and it was taking awhile for us to place our order. Usually I remember to bring a coloring book and crayons or something along those lines to keep my daughter entertained during such times but not this time. Nope, this time I brought nothing with me. Except my iPhone.

My daughter was starting to get very fussy and no amount of talking or one-on-one attention was getting her to calm down. I get it. She was hungry and you wouldn’t like her when she’s hungry. However, we were in public and one of her epic tantrums was not acceptable. Her tantrums are ugly and as I know what they look like, I adamantly refuse to let her have one in public (especially in a restaurant, where people are eating). So I did what any panicked mother would do. I pulled out my iPhone, quickly downloaded a game for her and stuck my phone in her hand.

She calmed down. She became occupied and patient.  The fact that it was taking longer than usual suddenly became not so bad. But it made me feel awful. I never wanted to be the parent who had to rely on technology to calm her kid down. Yet here I was. I was that parent.

The situation got me thinking about other methods I could have used to stop my daughter’s impending tantrum. For instance, I could have:

  • Taken her out of the restaurant to calm down
  • Used what was available (such as chopsticks) to try to entertain her
  • Explained to her why we don’t behave like that in restaurants
  • Started another impromptu spelling bee
  • Encouraged her to start telling us one of her amazingly imaginative stories
  • Asked her what she would like to do when dinner was done
  • Reviewed with her what she had learned at school that week
  • Talked to her about our upcoming trip to Disney World
  • Had her read the menu with me and let her pick out options for my meal

Basically, I could have done any number of things before I went to the crutch of technology. Unfortunately, it was such a quick and easy solution and my immediate motivation was to head off the tantrum before it started that I didn’t think of the ramifications. The main ramification? Now she expects to play with my phone every time we’re in a restaurant.

We are about 50/50 with letting her use it versus not. She does understand that it is a special treat and it’s not something that she gets all the time. But I am sorry that I opened that door.

What methods do you use to keep your kids occupied in restaurants? 

Jana Lynch

Jana Lynch