What is one word that can make the best parent in the world feel a burst of nervous energy? Mealtime! Ask any parent who dreamed of having family dinners filled with endless and meaningful conversations with their children about mealtime and you are assured to ruffle a few nerves. Truth is that kids and mealtime are two things that far too often don’t go well together.
Rather than meaningful conversations and time enjoying the tight circle of family, parents are so busy telling their child to, ‘pick up your fork’, or ‘keep their elbows off the table,’ or ‘quit picking their nose,’ and ‘stop playing in their mashed potatoes’, that they rarely get a word in edgewise (aside from those). Here you have a parent who put a lot of effort into shopping and preparing for a nice meal to present their family with, spent time cooking it and they don’t even get to take a bite while the food is hot. Worse, before dinner is over half of the dish is lying on the floor underneath the table, and resistant children are sitting cross-armed because mom is trying to make them take a bite (just one single bite) of their broccoli. Funny how kids who will eat their own boogers, act as if broccoli is the grossest thing in the world.
The mealtime woes normally start early in life. Most parents find that between the ages of 18 months and 14 dinner can be nothing more than a calamity of errors. (After 14, many children start eating in their rooms. In the dark, and leaving the leftovers under their bed as a rite of passage). What’s up with this? Why cant parent expect to get through one single, simple dinner with the kiddos acting like civilized human beings.
Many parents lose sight of the while dinner time drama and start allowing kids to eat on their own on the living room floor in front of the television. For one thing, it’s much easier to get children to eat when they are preoccupied with something that interests them. (Clearly mom and dad don’t). And, this little bit of peace and quiet also allows parents to enjoy their meal in silence. IN fact, in many homes dinnertime for kids and parents is set for two different times, which really isn’t such a bad idea. This way, you can not only feel more relaxed helping your children through dinner but you also can eat with another adult later and actually have some time to converse without yelling, ‘Pick up your damn fork!’
The real question on most parents minds is is there away to avoid this dinner time drama. Certainly, you want to be able to still have warm and fuzzy feelings for the dinner table. And, it is necessary to teach your children manners so that they won’t be looked down upon should they visit someone else’s homes. And let’s face it, your own parents pretty much forced you to sit down, shut up and eat the food on your plate regardless of whether it was spinach pate or chicken nuggets. So why are the children of today different?
In order to help circumvent this situation in your home your best option is to start the ritual of family dinners early in life. Pull up the high chair to the table, turn off the television, and show your children from an early age that the family dinner idea is important to you and your family. Make sure that you turn off all the technological devices in your home, and that you stay present at the table as well. The younger you instill the fact that dinner is a family event, and nip complaining and whining in the butt the more your children will mold to conformity at the dinner table. It may take some time, and you may find that for a few months when your children are toddlers you spend more time yelling at them than you do eating. But keep at it. If this ritual is important to you you have to pave the way until you have cemented the tradition in their mind. Eventually, it becomes a no-brainer to your children .
Secondly, make sure that you don’t call your children to the table until everything is ready and served. If you put restless children down at a table that is not ready for mealtime you will spend more time fixing drinks, cutting up steaks, and scooting chairs in than you will sitting down and eating. Plus, this shortens the amount of time that your child has to sit still at the table. Before you sit down make a rule of asking if there is anything else your child needs. If they say no then its time to take off the waitress apron and be mom.
Also, while it is considered mannerful and respectful to stay seated at the table until every single person is done eating, often it is more enjoyable for the parents to not follow this rule. If your child inhaled their food, talked about the day at school and are ready to move on to the next thing forcing them to stay seated to watch you chew your cud will only exasperate them and bore them. In this situation, you realize that what are only 5 or 10 minutes to an adult feels like a year to a child that doesn’t want to sit there.
Additionally, you should also enforce rules and manners, but realize that you want this family tradition to be fun as well. If all you are doing is pulling your hair out and barking orders at your children there is a good chance that neither you nor they will enjoy dinnertime. So check your own attitude as well before you start dinner. Try to keep it fun and enjoyable. Light some candles. Let the kids drink out of wine glasses. Play some soft music. And be creative with their foods. Draw smiley faces with ketchup, or cut their bread into cute little shapes. If you have older children, try to keep the conversation light and fun, rather than use this as part of the evening as a time for discipline. This way, children too will look forward to dinner time and will see this ‘event’ in your home something to look forward to each and every night.