Behaviour at meal times - Betsy Brown Braun
The peaceful family meal is a worthy goal, but with young children it is more dream than reality. Aside from not always being hungry at mealtimes, children eat different amounts at a different pace from adults and their siblings at different ages. To top it off, their attention span is less than half that of an adult's. All of this makes staying willingly at the table a challenge. The child has little interest in any conversation in which he is not directly participating. He would rather sprawl in your lap, eat off your plate, explore the trajectory of peas, see what tone the half-filled glass of milk makes, and hang off the side of the chair.
Having expectations that are thought out and reasonable for your child's table behaviour will go a long way in eliminating mealtimes battles.
Set the stage for the meal.
Turn off the BlackBerry, the television, and your work brain. Put down the newspaper and have your kids put away electronic games. Make it a rule that phones are not answered during dinner. These small acts give your children a clear message about the importance of the family meal.
Meals happen at a table.
Mealtimes should be about food, socialising, and sharing. When it happens at a table, together with parents, it can be a pleasant activity, one that is eagerly anticipated, that creates happy memories and positive associations. Discussions and learning will abound, and table behaviour will be modelled.
Include your child in the conversation.
Mealtime conversations need to include everyone in the family. Save your grown-up conversations for later. Talk to one another. Tell stories. Laugh!
Stop feeding your child.
Feeding a child who can certainly feed himself (those over eighteen months) gives the clear message that he is not in charge of his eating. The only thing it feeds is a power struggle.
Set clear limits around mealtime behaviour … and be prepared to enforce them.
Decide what behaviours are the most important to you and let your child know ahead of time that you expect them to be followed.
Have realistic expectations for how long a child should be able to sit at the table.
- A two-year-old child may actually be able to sit longer than a four-year-old child, as he will be a slower and more distracted eater, entertained by having everyone there together. Consider five minutes a success.
- It is reasonable to expect a three-year-old child to sit at a dinner table for five to ten minutes. Some will have much greater staying power than others.
- A four year-old should make it to ten to fifteen minutes.
- A five year-old usually can last fifteen to twenty minutes, and the same is true for a six year-old.
Needless to say, the length of the stay will depend upon variables such as how tired the child may be, what the day was like, and what is next on the agenda.