A few weekends ago our family ended the day at a local pizza place and enjoyed a great dinner together. The restaurant was nice enough to provide the kids with pizza dough to play with as well as crayons and paper for the table — ample activities for the kids to occupy themselves while we waited for the pizza. We had a great meal, enjoyed ourselves immensely, and then got up to leave. Upon departure I was shocked and dismayed at how many other parents in the restaurant had resorted to screen time and given their kids an iPad or iPhone to keep busy during the meal. Some parents (or many) may believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, thinking it’s a necessary tactic to use in the parenting survival game.

I would argue that it is short-term gain for long-term pain.

Don’t get me wrong — there have been many a moment in our parental lives when we’ve sweated it out big time at restaurants with kids on the edge of reason. But we persisted and aimed for a goal of good behavior. We bring fun books, crayons, and paper to entertain the children while we wait. Why do we do this? We want our kids to understand that a restaurant — a shared meal — is a time to come together, to enjoy good food, and to enjoy each other. As parents, it’s our role to teach them how to grow up to be great adults. By giving them an electronic device, we aren’t teaching them anything except that it’s OK to escape the world when in the company of others.

And it’s not. It’s rude.

If you would like to bring your kids to restaurants but are at a loss on easing the stress without resorting to a device, here are a few pointers:

Eat early

Avoid taking your famished and cranky child into a restaurant. Though it may sound extreme, 5 p.m. is a great time — restaurants are generally not too full, and you can get a table near the door easily.

Make your expectations clear

Explain what you expect of your child before going into the restaurant. We lay down ground rules for the kids before we go in. We tell them we expect them to behave well — to not scream, cry, stand on the chairs, or generally behave like heathens.

Check, please

We ask for the bill mid-way through the meal so we don’t waste valuable time at the end of the meal, when the kids have usually hit the end of the good behavior road.

Take a break

If crying or a tantrum occurs, we take the child out of the restaurant to cool down. When the kids were smaller, we didn’t hesitate to discreetly exit the restaurant should a tantrum occur. A cool-down period outside seems to work wonders. 

Bring stuff

Crayons. Small dinosaurs. Mini cars. Notepads. A friend of mine carries a little drawstring bag with her at all times. She has dubbed it her “bag of tricks.” It’s brilliant in a restaurant setting.

Go kid-free

Of course, the other option is to not go to a restaurant with kids. If you find it too stressful, get a babysitter and go and enjoy the night alone.

Parenting is hard work. I will be the first to chime in on that one. Technology can be a great tool, but placating children with it, in my view, doesn’t give kids the necessary life skills they’ll need as adults. Put down your phones, look each other in the eyes, and have a conversation. It can do wonders for family dynamics.

How do you feel about screens and phones in restaurants?