over the past few months, i've become increasingly more stressed when we go out to a restaurant with bennett. sometimes he does great, but more often that not lately it's a disaster and we're both in tears by the end of the meal (if we even make it that far- i've taken my meal to-go more than once).
bennett is a busy 16 month old. he doesn't like to sit still for long. restaurants like panera, noodles, chipotle, etc. are ideal because the food comes out relatively quickly and we can usually distract him long enough to get through the short waiting period. sit-down restaurants are the big challenge. waiting for a table, waiting to order, waiting for your food, waiting for the bill, it can sometimes end up being close to an hour and a half before we're out of there. it's just too long for our active boy. not to mention that most times we go out it's for dinner in the evening, which is easily his hardest time of the day. he's usually tired at that point, worn out from his day, hungry and crabby. our usual distraction tactics (toys, snacks, books, etc.) just aren't effective. he wants what he wants and he wants it now. books and toys are thrown, he freaks out like we're torturing him when we try to sit him in the highchair, and it's overall a stressful experience for everyone.
now, i know that i have a "spirited" child. we've known that bennett is feisty and strong-willed from the beginning. he is not easily swayed from what he wants and he makes it known to everyone when he's not getting his way. part of this is that he's a toddler, and part of this is that he's bennett. i make a lot of attempts to avoid going out to dinner, mostly by inviting friends and family to have dinner at our house instead of going out. bennett is happier that way and i enjoy my time with friends and family far more when i'm not stressed that my child is going to melt down at any moment. but there are times when going out to eat is inevitable, and it's honestly something i like to do so i don't want to avoid it completely. and, let's face it, he's gotta learn eventually.
i'm just not sure what to do to make restaurant dining more relaxing and less tense. i'm sure part of it is just his age and it will get better with time. also, i need to work on not letting his mood/behavior get me all worked up because i'm sure my anxiety/frustration just makes matters worse. there's no way he doesn't notice that and respond to it. what can really be expected of him at his age? i'm not sure it's age-appropriate to expect a 16 month old to sit pleasantly at the table for an hour or more. but i also don't want to teach him that freaking out gets him out of his highchair and/or "reward" him with more toys and snacks to calm him down. at what point is it distraction and at what point is it rewarding negative behavior?
man, parenting is hard... any tips that have worked for you to help making eating out a pleasant experience for everyone?