Tips for Parents to Make Outings With Kids Successful

Take preventative measures to stop children from acting out in public

Taking small kids on public outings can be daunting for parents who fear their children can't handle the pressure. Trips to stores, businesses, restaurants and other public places can bring out unbecoming behavior in children, especially in environments laden with toys, candy and other enticements. Prevent your child from having a public meltdown with these tips. 

Plan Ahead for the Outing

Daughter pulling mom's arm in market
Daughter pulling mom's arm in market. Getty Images/Hero Images

Kids thrive on routines. Parents who successfully take outings with children attribute their fortune to proper planning. One mom makes a simple list and has her children carry it to be her "helpers." Tell kids why you're going into a store and what you will and won't be buying. Then, stick to it. Keep visits brief and to-the-point. This is not the best time to simply browse.

Have a Mission When You Go Out

Have kids help with the "mission at hand" (buying milk, bread and lunch meat at the grocery store) and set expectations in advance. Consider letting each kid choose one item, such as the breakfast cereal, or help with unloading items from the cart if they remain seated while shopping. Have a fun activity planned after the "mission is accomplished" such as going to the park or watching a movie together.

Keep the Trip Positive

Child experts urge parents to offer rewards for great behavior as an incentive. This also allows parents to gently remind kids of the treats in store for them if they behave. Whether it is picking one candy bar at the check-out counter, going for a bike ride once they get home or staying up late to watch a beloved show, positive rewards can foster angelic-like behavior and help to minimize child meltdowns.

Keep Expectations Realistic

Public outings are unsuccessful when parents have unrealistic expectations about how long kids can remain quiet and inactive. It is reasonable to expect kids to behave during a short restaurant outing; but parents shouldn't expect youngsters to remain "seen and not heard" throughout a multi-course meal at a posh restaurant.

Bring Quiet Entertainment

Other patrons may not appreciate your child's gestures and squeals as much as you do. Bring quiet entertainment for kids to keep them occupied, such as coloring books, toy cars or small dolls. Everyone will thank you.

Have a Plan B

Parents should prepare to have a Plan B during an outing with kids. Soiled clothing, a sleeping child or inclement weather can put a damper on big plans, and every experienced parent knows that trying to force something to happen usually backfires. Plan B may be restaurant delivery rather than eating out, waiting a day to go to the grocery store or delaying an outing until the baby awakens from a nap. If possible, go with the flow.

Visit Kid-Friendly Stores When Children Are In Tow

Not all stores or restaurants are created the same, and some places are more kid-friendly than others. Businesses cater to their clientele, and try to offer an environment that is both profitable and satisfying to customers. Not all businesses accommodate side-by-side strollers and grabby hands. Parents should frequent cramped stores overloaded with breakables and stacked merchandise without kids.

Set Proper Behavior Expectations

Kids learn from their parents. If you expect your kids to sit quietly through a meal, remain in the basket while shopping or to hold your hand as you enter a store, then say so immediately before the public outing begins. Make sure children understand and agree to the behavior. Discuss that this is to be a "no whine" experience and any concerns can be addressed back at home. Use the restroom before you leave to lessen time in a store.

Determine Consequences Ahead of Time

When kids whine or throw temper tantrums in spite of their parents' best efforts, parents should have a calm plan in place and stick to the consequence. If possible, try to avoid meltdowns by redirecting children to more positive activities.  Parents can say: "Ali, you're starting to whine, and I'd hate to go home without stopping to get your popcorn."

Remember Health and Safety for All

Restaurant staffers often complain that parents allow kids to roam, twirl and otherwise irritate diners, while they sit nearby, seemingly oblivious. Don't let your kids crawl around an empty seating area. That means the table will need to be re-cleaned. Don't let kids play with the salt and pepper shakers, open sugar packets, crawl under tables (think of the unsanitary conditions) or stand and play underfoot of the wait staff and other diners. 

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