Dear Mr. Dad: When I was single, I hated it when noisy kids were allowed to run around in restaurants and spoil everyone’s meals. Now that my wife and I have two children, ages 4 and 6, we’d like to occasionally go out to eat with them, but we’re worried that they’ll do something to embarrass us. How do we keep them in line while we (and everyone else in the restaurant) enjoy our time out?

A: One of the most amazing things about becoming a parent is that no matter how many loud-children-in-a-restaurant (or movie theater or opera house) horror stories we have, we tend to be immune to the noise our own kids make. But other people’s kids? Well, that’s a different story.

There are some hardliners out there who say young kids shouldn’t be allowed in places where adults come to enjoy some peace and quiet. For example, just last month, McDain’s Restaurant in Monroeville, PA banned kids under six from its premises, saying they’re too loud and disruptive to adult diners.

Then there are more moderate voices—like mine—that argue that children should be welcome pretty much everywhere, as long as they’re well-behaved. Although the loud, screaming, unruly brats make the biggest impression, if you think about it, you can probably remember plenty of kids the same age who were downright angelic. So in my opinion, an outright ban isn’t fair to those kids or their parents.

At 4 and 6, your children are still young, but not too young to be taught good manners and respect towards others in public places where they’ll need to be quiet. If they can follow age-appropriate rules at home, chances are they’ll be able to follow them outside of the house as well.

Here are some guidelines for you:

  • Pick carefully. Make sure the restaurant you’re considering has booster seats, kids’ menus, crayons, and other distractions. Places where you know lots of families go are a good choice. Restaurants that have crystal wineglasses and white linen tablecloths, or where people go for romantic meals or business meetings are not.
  • If the restaurant doesn’t provide crayons, bring your own, along with coloring books or other small toys that will keep your kids (quietly) occupied.
  • Before you take your children to a restaurant, tell them it’s a special treat and let them know that you expect them to sit quietly at the table, speak in a low voice, and not run around, scream, or throw food off their plates. But don’t belabor the point, otherwise it’ll sound like a list of suggestions.
  • Let them choose their own meal from a children’s menu. If you order something they don’t like, they may spend the rest of your dinner complaining about it—loudly.
  • Watch the clock. Expecting overtired kids to follow rules—especially in public—is a setup for disaster (and embarrassment).
  • If, despite your best efforts, your children misbehave in a way that draws complaints (or dirty looks) from people around you or the restaurant staff, get your dinner to go, and leave. You can use this opportunity to tell your children that because they didn’t obey the rules, you have to leave and you won’t be taking them out again until they can prove to you that you can trust them to behave appropriately.

Most kids love to go, out so chances are that they’ll eventually learn how to behave so that your family—and everyone else around—can enjoy what they came for: a nice, quiet meal.