Eating out can be an overwhelming experience for all of us. Children, in particular those who are neurodivergent, can find this extremely difficult. The noises, people, smells, new place, even waiting for food to arrive can overload their sensory system making it too hard for them to cope with the situation.
This can make going out for a meal, spending time on holiday or even just birthday parties a challenge. The key to helping a child in this situation is distraction, before it gets too much. We have some top tips and a free download from KiddyCharts to help!
Take A Calming Bag
Calming bags can be life savers when you are eating out. Essentially it is a bag filled with things that can help your child refocus and therefore reduce their stress and anxiety. We have an article all about how to create a calming bag and what you could put in it, in our children’s section.
Colouring is a great way to spend time waiting for food to arrive, and is a fabulous way to distract them when eating out. Have you noticed when out that there are lots of restaurants that provide crayons and colouring sheets? It’s because children have a very different experience of time than adults. So, sitting and waiting for your order in a strange place, with all the added noises and smells can be too much. At home they have their belongings and are used to their environment.
There are lots of affordable colouring books around, next week we will have some colouring pages for you to download for free! Don’t forget to take some pencils or crayons with you too!
Play A Game
Games are incredibly distracting, but of course it’s about choosing the right one. There are a few simple ones you can try whilst eating out, such as I-Spy or Find Five Things.
We have also got a fantastic free download for you. The Restaurant Review Book has been kindly shared by the lovely people at KiddyCharts. There are a whole host of ways that you can use this, but our first thought was to make going out a game. Your child is a top notch restaurant reviewer and they’ve come to see whether this place is up to scratch. You can practice the game at home, if you can take the criticism of course, so they have the idea before going out.
The Restaurant Review Book has a Review log, Restaurant Log, Places to Try and Favourite Restaurants all included in the download.
There is lots of ways to expand on this too. They could draw a picture of the restaurant, ask the waiter a question, collect leaflets and business cards. Everything could go into a scrapbook at home, so they can look back on their experiences.
KiddyCharts have a wealth of downloads and pintables that you can use for your children at home or out and about. They even have a free Book Club, so please remember you go and have a look at what they have on offer!
Give Them A Task
Giving the children a task to focus on can help them regulate their feelings and concentrate on the job at hand. A brilliant way to do this, is to play the Find Five Things game mentioned above. This can be easily played whilst seated at the table, simply say “Find five green things!” or five lightbulbs, five cups and so on.
You could also come up with a task before you leave, it can be dubbed as a secret mission. Ideas include, take a picture of a menu, spot ten people wearing hats, collect five leaves, you get the idea.
We love the challenge of finding objects that could be animals in disguise. A chair with an extremely high back could be a giraffe posing as a chair. An extravagant ceiling light might resemble a monkey swinging from a tree. It’s about imagination and engaging them in an activity that detracts from the world around them.
Entrusting them with a special mission will not only give them a point of focus, but make the trip out a little more exciting.
If you would like to find out more about sensory overload, please have a read of our article Why Children Get Sensory Overload and How to Help. Also, don’t forget to drop by and check out KiddyCharts for more fantastic downloads to use with the children.