Restaurant behavior 101

Why does it seem that as soon as your perfectly behaved kids set foot in a restaurant, all bets are off? The night is interrupted by your screaming child while you pretend not to notice the sea of accusing eyes from nearby diners.

For parents who have children with special needs, the embarrassment and awkwardness can be even worse. But neurocognitive specialist Donalee Markus says there are steps a parent can take to ensure more civilized public dining habits:

1. Set expectations before you go. Talk about what is appropriate behavior and talk through the experience before you even leave the house. Discuss where everyone will be sitting, what it means to be eating in a room full of strangers and what is expected of them.

2. Review the menu online. This allows you to plan ahead so there are no surprises when your child is asked what they would like to order.

3. Allow your child to sit on his or her knees. We all feel best when we have our feet touching the ground. When you are too small to reach the floor, a good option is to sit on your knees. This is more calming to your child.

4. Praise your child for good behavior. This reinforcement provides a foundation for understanding what is expected in public and encourages them to replicate this behavior.

5. Let your child choose where to eat once in a while. It keeps them engaged and increases your odds of having a peaceful meal.

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