Raising kids to be independent, self-sufficient and confident is every parent’s goal. Teaching and modeling important life skills for our children is a big part of fostering that independence!
At Beyond Speech Therapy Services we believe learning and skill building can be done so effectively when it’s incorporated into everyday life and activities – it’s why we believe in playing with a purpose!
A great way to teach life skills, build confidence and allow for some self-sufficiency is a family meal at your favorite restaurant! The skills used and practiced when dining in a restaurant are great practice for larger, more overarching life skills.
Let’s look at some of the ways a restaurant trip can be great skill practice for our kids!
10 Ways to Practice Life Skills at a Restaurant
1. Using socially aware behavior
For lots of kids, learning what is socially appropriate behavior is a skill best mastered with practice. Having a meal at a restaurant is a great place to work those skills!
Some things to help kiddos practice while eating out:
- Being respectful of others personal space
- Speaking with inside voices
- Sitting at the table with good body control
- Taking turns speaking
- Staying in their own seat and not leaving the table
2. Reading menus
Anytime you can incorporate reading into everyday life, it’s a win for our kiddo’s skill development!
While out at a restaurant, encourage your children to read the menu to the best of their ability. If they are early readers, they can identify sight words they know. The more advanced readers can read through the menu, deciding what they would like to order.
3. Using decision making skills
A skill that we sometimes take for granted, and one that doesn’t always come naturally, is decision making. For some kids, simply choosing between ordering mac and cheese or the chicken fingers can cause anxiety and overwhelm. Use your meal at a restaurant to practice!
Remind your child ahead of time that they will be making a decision on what they would like to eat. You can also check the menu online before you go so they feel better prepared. This forethought is a good skill for them to learn and then use as they grow up.
4. Speaking politely to waitstaff
Respect and kindness are life skills every parent wants their child to master – and we know that when respect, kindness and polite words are modeled early, they are easily adopted by our kids.
Use your family dinner at a restaurant to practice these super important skills. Remind children to speak politely to waitestaff and to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ each time they ask for something and are served a meal or drink.
5. Ordering food independently
As parents, we know sometimes doing things for our kids, instead of letting them do it on their own, is the quickest and most efficient way to get from point A to point B, but it’s not always the most helpful for them.
For lots of kids, speaking to strangers can be nerve wracking but having the opportunity to order their own food in a restaurant can be a big boost to their confidence!
This is another thing you can discuss before you head out – talk about if they would like to order on their own and practice what they will say when they do.
6. Self regulation and waiting patiently
An outing to a restaurant can come with a lot of downtime and waiting. For our kiddos this can be a tough task to tackle! Again, conversation and preparation before you leave can be so helpful.
Talk about the fact that there will be time while you’re at the restaurant that you’ll need to wait – maybe wait for a table, wait for the waitstaff to take your order, wait for your food to come.
Discuss how it’s important that while they wait they are patient and respectful. Come up with some ideas of things you can do to pass the time while you wait – play I Spy, draw a picture on a napkin (paper of course), make up a story and tell the family, take turns sharing a funny story from the week.
(While it may be easiest to give kids a device to pass the time, that doesn’t develop any functional skills. Encourage conversation instead!)
7. Using silverware correctly and appropriately
Dining out is also a great time to practice some fine motor skills. Model, demonstrate and then help kids use their fork, spoon and knife correctly while eating.
This is also the perfect time to talk about what you do with your silverware when you are done eating, how to place it on their plate and the appropriate use of silverware in general when out at a restaurant.
8. Eating appropriately and practcing good manners
So many of the life skills our kids need to be functional and thriving people can happen at a restaurant table!
Encourage kiddos to practice good manners throughout their meal – eating with their mouth closed, not playing with food, speaking with an inside voice, no burping or belching outloud (and saying “excuse me” if they do).
Setting the expectation for good manners and talking about why it’s important before you head out is a great way to set kids up for success!
9. Keeping the table and personal space tidy
Another part of eating out respectfully is keeping the table the family is sitting at tidy. Remind kids that if they spill it should clean up, food stays on their plate and to use their napkin to wipe hands and face.
10. Basic money skills and tip etiquette
Eating a meal at a restaurant is also a great opportunity to talk to kids about money, spending and proper restaurant etiquette.
Kids can practice their math skills by adding up how much their food, drink and dessert cost. When it comes time to pay the bill, talk to kids about what it means to leave the waitstaff a tip – why it’s an important thing to do and what is usually a good amount.
Important life skills can be practiced every day with our kids and a family dinner at a local restaurant gives ample opportunity to practice so much! Take some time before you next outing to think about the skills that would be most beneficial for your kids to work on and have a really fun time!
If you’re looking for more support, guidance or information on child development please reach out to us at Beyond Speech Therapy Services! We’d love to help!