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Editor’s note: For the Love of Parenting is a local parenting advice column coordinated by Krystal Arnot, director of the Little Learners Center in Eureka. When parents have questions, she’ll share strategies here.

Q: “I love going out to eat with my kids and family, but my kids are struggling with their manners. Any suggestions to help us enjoy a family dinner out and about?”

A: We really struggled with this with our two girls from the time the youngest was 1 ½ and the oldest was 3. They are now 5 and 7 and are pretty well mannered restaurant patrons.

A few strategies we tried actually worked. One was finding restaurants for them to “train” at dining out. These were more forgiving places than a white tablecloth dinner house. We went to the same breakfast place and same Mexican restaurant over and over, to get them better at being out.

One restaurant was pretty loud already and was accommodating when we asked to order the girls favorite meal early. Any disturbances were covered up by the other diners’ conversation. And, getting their favorite food first gave them something to do before boredom set in. We keep going to this place, and we still do our ordering in shifts, with the kids’ meals coming out first.

The other restaurant was also friendly to families with young kids and had a play area right in the main dining room. They could play within sight of us and we could have an adult beverage and an adult conversation! It is still one of the girls’ favorite spot to eat.

Finally, when their energy level was just too high, one of us, usually Dad, would take turns with the kids walking (and even running) outside the restaurant. At one Henderson Center eatery, Dad actually walked around two blocks with the active 6-year-old almost every outing.

None of this meant they were allowed to run wild inside a restaurant, but it gave them space to learn how to act without us withering under the glares of the staff and other diners and without them being deprived of the learning experience.And, one more quick note, if you are dining out with a toddler, a collapsible high chair, like the one made by Ciao Baby, is a must have.

Good luck!

Have a parenting question? Send it to letters@times-standard. com with “Parenting” in the subject line.

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