Having 4 boys and going anywhere is tough. Being appropriate when we get there is even tougher. We try to spend most of our time in places that are made for boys…parks, bounce houses, swimming pools, gymnasiums, trampoline arenas, beaches, mountains…you get the idea.

But, sometimes we have to, or choose to, go places that are not meant for 4 brothers…church, restaurants, homes with nice furnishings, libraries, museums, places of employment, malls, doctors, weddings, grocery stores, you catch my drift?

photo taken at the DIA, right after my son said, very loudly, “I can’t believe this is in a museum! I can paint way better than this!” We are working on our art appreciation :).

I cannot tell you the hullabaloo that would often arise when we would try to eat at a restaurant together. Fights about who to sit by, arguments about getting soda, one person who didn’t like what we were ordering, not enough crayons, issues about sharing food, staying in our seats, staying in our seats, staying in our seats, spilling water, spilling food, throwing food, bothering the booth behind us, bathroom breaks, and lying on the floor. Someone always ended the excursion by lying on the floor. So, so gross. But, I let them, because they were quiet, hidden, and I could finally eat something. You know what they say about desperate times…

So, we stopped going out to dinner, mostly. But sometimes we still had to go, and we couldn’t just say “no” to every excursion that was not outdoors, so we needed a plan.

That is when we started doing something that changed our lives. We started prepping our kids. I think it was Mike’s idea, and it was brilliant. We realized that we were freaking out about their behavior without really letting them know what we expected and what the consequences would be for misbehavior. We were just crossing our fingers they would be good, then reacting to emergency after emergency.

A total dining success at a fancy restaurant at the Aerie Restaurant at the Grand Traverse Hotel

Prepping our kids is, by far, our best parenting tool and we use it all the time. It works for every age.

For example, if we are going to dinner at a restaurant with grandma and grandpa, in the car on the way over we prep. The conversation goes something like this:

Us: It’s really nice of grandma and grandpa to invite us to dinner tonight. How are we going to act?
Them: Nice.
Us: What does nice mean?
Them: We aren’t going to run around or be crazy. Can we play grandma’s phone?
Us: No. They want us to come to dinner to spend time with them. You can chat with them and tell them about your day, school or your sports. Make sure you ask them about their life too. What can you think of to chat about?
Them: Maybe science fair or my new book.
Us: Great. Everyone think of 2 things you would like to talk about or ask them about. Now, when we are eating how do we act?
Them: Good.
Us: What does good mean?
Them: We stay in our chairs and use manners. We use our fork and we ask for things to be passed. We don’t yell or play with our food or fight.
Us: What if the server refills your water or brings you more fries?
Them: We say thank you.
Us: If someone asks you a question, do you ignore them?
Them: No, look at them and answer it.
Us: Do we ever get on the floor?
Them: No. It’s disgusting.
Us: When you are finished what is the plan? The adults are usually still eating.
Them: We can color on our menus or maybe someone who is done can take us outside. Maybe we could play someone’s phone?
Us: Sounds good. If you can’t show us that you are old enough to come to dinner with us, converse, and make it a nice experience, then next time you will be home with a babysitter.

For my little guy, on the way to the park we try this (note: much harder with 2 year-olds):

Me: We are going to the park today to play with friends! Do we hit our friends or push our friends?
Pierce: No. We be nice.
Me: Are we going to share our snacks?
Pierce: Yes.
Me: Will we share our ball?
Pierce: Yes.
Me: Okay, if we can’t share our things, what happens?
Pierce: We put them away.
Me: If we can’t be kind, or we push or hit we will go home, okay?
Pierce: Okay.

Now, real life is never quite as pleasant as the prepping conversation, but the experience is about 100% better than it is without the prep. Honestly, it is painfully obvious when we forget to do it. We use it all the time…when people come to visit, when we have friends over, when we are getting home late and need everyone in bed quickly, when we go see someone we haven’t spent much time with, when someone in the family has a  new baby, before a play date. You name it, we prep for it.

We still have some serious fails on a fairly regular basis, but our expectations are realistic. We don’t expect perfection, just effort, and that is good enough for us.

Now, I can’t leave without a note about consequences. They MUST be realistic and easy to follow through on. When things start to go downhill, we give quick reminders about our conversation and it usually does the trick, but if it doesn’t we have to act. So, be realistic! If you know you won’t leave the park, think of something you will do, like sit in the car together or take a time out on the park bench until they can be nice. If you know everyone will come to dinner the next time, perhaps the consequence could be they have to make or clean up dinner the next night to give you back a peaceful night for the one they took away. Be clever, but make them realistic! Kids know empty threats all too well.