Meal times are one of the cornerstones of your daily routine. They can be the most joyous part of your day or the most dreaded part of your day.
When you have small children it is very important that you be consistent and that they sit down to eat at roughly the same times every day. It’s also important that those times are spaced far enough apart so that your kids have an appetite for what’s put in front of them, but not so far apart that the run-up to every meal is marked by the kind of bad behaviour and irritability that’s triggered by hunger and low blood sugar levels.
Meals though, are not just about getting the right amount and type of food into your kids at the right time. They’re also occasions when your family can be together sharing news, talking over what everyone’s been up to during the day, sharing successes and disappointments as well as just enjoying each other’s company.
My family also uses meal times to share how we helped someone or made someone smile that day.
In many families, meal times are not so enjoyable. Instead, they’re running battles to get kids to eat, behave, or just sit down at the table. How do you turn this scenario around so that mealtimes become one of your favourite times of the day with your family?
The first step is to establish some ground rules. Here are seven rules that can help family dinners turn into precious family time:
- Children should wash their hands before they eat.
- Children need to sit at the table and not run off.
- TV stays off during meals.
- Children need to finish chewing before speaking.
- No one answers the telephone during meals.
- Children need to eat nicely – no playing with their food.
- Children need to TRY something – if they don’t like it that’s fine, but they must TRY it. If they truly try something and really don’t like it then they are free to eat the side dishes.
These rules are pretty simple which make it easy for you to reinforce. If your child breaks one of the rules, use this phrase:
“Ella, (of course use your own child’s name here), you need to ________________ (finish chewing your food before you speak. We don’t talk with food in our mouths.)”
The key words here are, “You need to” and “We”. These words teach your rules and values clearly and concisely but they also join you as a family instead of placing blame or belittling. When your child hears, “We” they hear, “Oh, yeah, that’s what my family does” instead of, “I’m bad again”.
If your child continues to misbehave or break a rule after this reminder then you can use my 4 Step Discipline Technique.
A couple of other things to make sure meal time is relaxing:
- Ease up. Gradually give your baby (child) the opportunity to experience independence because it’s what they crave. As soon as your baby can sit upright, without additional support, bring the high chair to the table. Let her feed herself as much as possible – with finger foods to start off with.When she’s big enough, give her a booster seat. Try not to make a 2 1/2 or 3 year old be stuck in a high chair drinking from a bottle or sippy cup – they are beyond this. It’s okay though to have a 2 – 2 1/2 year old wear a bib until they can show you they don’t need it, but try to allow them to practice being independent.
- Use a speaking object, if necessary. Sometimes families, larger ones especially, struggle because everyone wants to speak at the same time. Decide as a family on what object could be used to show whose turn it is to talk. It could be the salt shaker or something more special like a shell someone found on a family holiday. Pass this object around to ensure that only the person with it in front of them is speaking.
Use these tips and tricks consistently and I guarantee that meal times will become one of your most favourite times of the day!