How Taking Your Kids to Restaurants Can Teach Emotional Intelligence


Studies show that having a high Emotional Intelligence Quotient (E.Q.) is valued in today’s workplace and can make or break even the most talented person’s ability to land and keep a job.  Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. Additionally, Nobel Prize winning Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, found that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t, even if the likeable person is offering a lower quality product or service at a higher price.


One easy and great way to help your kids improve your child’s E.Q. (also known as Social Intelligence) is by taking them to restaurants: The entire experience of eating out in a public place with your children affords a unique and concentrated opportunity to teach them to be sensitive to others while also attending to their physical and emotional needs.

I give credit to those parents who lovingly and tactfully discipline their kids in public places: These parents never raise their own voice when disciplining nor do they ever spank their child in public so as to embarrass them.  Instead, they talk quietly to their children, and explain the appropriate etiquette for these places.  The sophisticated parent helps alert their child to what others around them consider disruptive to prevent their child from becoming  narcissistic; Effective disciplining in a restaurant requires patience and sensitivity from parents. In doing so children learn an important life lesson: They are respected and at the same time they’re not the center of the world! If parents make the effort to explain to children what’s expected of them when their in a public place, most children will adapt better to the setting and learn to value practicing empathy.

Consider this scenario: Before going to the restaurant you can psychologically prepare your kids for the evening and explain to them how special it is to go out for dinner where someone else is serving you and cleaning up from your meal!  Let them know this is a privilege so they can begin to appreciate the specialness of the upcoming event.

Upon entering the restaurant, you can model cordial behavior to the host who seats you and to the waiter who takes your order.  Here’s the part that really hones in on the E.Q. lessons:  Tell them that you appreciate them using “inside voices “and then quietly alert them to what’s going on around them.  Obviously, if you exclusively take your kids to places where they need to muffle their voices that would be unhealthy and could stunt their development in other ways.  But assuming they have other excursions to gyms, parks and outdoor spaces where they can play loudly, the contrast of teaching them how to behave in a more adult setting is extremely beneficial to their social development.

When my daughter was 4 and my son was 7 years old, my husband and I started taking them out for dinner fairly regularly on Thursday nights (when the sit down restaurants were less crowded) so we could discuss and practice social etiquette while enjoying one another’s company.  I would say in a hushed voice, “Look over at that table guys.  See that elderly couple, they probably just came from a doctor’s appointment and had a hard day.  I bet they would appreciate having a quiet, relaxing meal together.  Let’s try not to disturb them.  Then I’d point out another couple at a table whom I suggested might be on a romantic date and they too would appreciate having a calm atmosphere in the restaurant.  I’d wink to them and let them know “we all get it ” and then we’d all adjust our decibel level so as to fit in with the rest of the patrons at the restaurant.  If I noticed another family with young children who were also behaving properly, I’d point them out as well so they’d see this was an expected and normal behavior.

The rest of the time at dinner I would ask them about themselves and their day at school and focus on their needs so actually it was only a brief amount of time focused on being aware and sensitive to others around them but it was just enough to get my point across to them.  I also praised them for speaking respectfully to the waiter and for thanking him/her when their food arrived.

My kids both have super fond memories of these special regular outings to some of their favorite eateries. From my standpoint, I enjoyed a much-needed break from cooking and I enjoyed the attention I could give my kids in a pleasant “adult” atmosphere. I also hoped these evenings out would afford me opportunities to socialize my kids so that they could go anywhere and know how to behave and be welcomed in many environments (including those that were not necessarily geared towards children). Frankly, I wasn’t aware of how important these reminders were to my children until other parents complimented me on how well my kids behaved at their home:  Consequently parents often chose my kids to join their families on outings remarking that they were easy to be with and sensitive to the needs of others in their families.

It seems funny talking about these scenarios in restaurants now that I have two college age kids as all of their peers have caught up to them in restaurant etiquette long ago!  I merely use this as an example to show how when parents talk with their children and explain to them their role in a particular setting, this can translate to helping them understand social norms and can lay the foundation for them to develop even more social acumen over time.

In my book, From Diploma to Dream Job: Five Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career, I wrote that some people call this practical intelligence, and others call this social intelligence. Whatever name you give this ability, it’s a measure of how well you take advantage of social opportunities, regulate your moods, delay momentary gratification, and can empathize with others in favor of a better long-term result. If your practical intelligence is up to par, you’ll have no problem developing a good professional instinct and social intuition.

With this in mind, instead of exclusively focusing on your child’s conventional intelligence quotient, you should make more of an investment in strengthening your child’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Emotional Intelligence:

In brief it is about: being aware of your own feelings and those of others, regulating these feelings in yourself and others, using emotions that are appropriate to the situation, self-motivation, and building relationships. Although you can’t teach all of this to your kids while eating out, you can impart some basic lessons that they might use in the future when in other social/work situations…  especially if the rest of their memories with you in the restaurant are positive and joyful ones.

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