There is a restaurant nearby that is famous for its brunch. Beautifully situated in a breathtaking sculpture garden, The Rat (yes, that’s its name) serves a slow and sumptuous meal each Sunday — and Mother’s Day is its busiest day of the year.
For my wife and family, however, crepes and frittatas and slowly sipping our coffee at this upscale locale are not on the Mother’s Day menu. Why? Like many families that include children with complex challenges, impatience, sensitivity to noise and picky eating make dining out a challenge.
Yet enjoying a special Mother’s Day brunch doesn’t have to be off limits. By relaxing our expectations of the typical Mother’s Day brunch tradition, we can make dining together an enjoyable bonding experience on this special day.
Here are some tips for enjoying Mother’s Day dining with your child with complex challenges:
#1: Rehearse and practice.
Remember: you cannot expect your child to majorly change his or her behavior simply because it is a special day. Like anything else, learning to eat at a restaurant is a skill that needs to be acquired. Work up to dining out by:
- Beginning with a list of expectations that you practice at home
- Experiment by eating at a low-stakes restaurant, one that is family friendly and casual, or even fast food
- Find a place that serves your learner’s favorite dish (my daughter loves pasta, so the Olive Garden was our gateway restaurant)
I recently had a parent show me a picture of her sons with special needs eating with her at a restaurant. She explained that it was the result of years of instruction and consistency. And last summer, I was able to take my family out for a lobster dinner — a huge win for us, and a result of many practice nights out.
#2: Bring along props.
Books, games and toys can keep children occupied during long wait times. Tablets and smartphones also make great table companions in times of duress.
Let your guilt go on this one and allow all of the members of your family to enjoy themselves (including you!) — even if that means a little extra screen time.
#3: Abandon the dress code.
While there is something special about getting dressed up for a nice meal, there is also something wonderful about simply being comfortable.
If your children are comfortable, they will be more relaxed. If they’re more relaxed, the better the chances for a successful meal. So, if possible, keep it casual.
#4. Write a Social StoryTM for the day.
If this day is different from other weekends, Social Stories are a wonderful way to preview situations and alleviate anxiety before an event.
Developed by Carol Gray (consultant to children, adolescents and adults with autism), Social Stories help parents, professionals and people with autism share information in a safe way. Want to learn to write one yourself? I highly recommend Ms. Gray’s book, “The New Social Story Book”.
#5: Take it outside.
May is a beautiful month just about everywhere in the U.S. If the idea of indoor brunch is still too much for your family, ditch the restaurant completely and set up your meal outside.
Take your time, enjoy your food with friends and family, and let your children play. You’ll be creating your own Mother’s Day tradition in no time.
What are your favorite ways to #shinetogether as a family on Mother’s Day? Share in the comments below, or let us know on Facebook!