Dinner time is one of the most chaotic times of the day for many families. From prep time (when Mom’s attention is occupied elsewhere) to getting the whole flock to the table, to actually eating the meal together, there are many challenges to conquer. I think the problem magnifies simply because Mom has a tendency to lapse in discipline during this time. When your attention needs to be directed at not burning the stir-fry that is on the stove top, it’s much easier to let offenses slip by than to stop, take time out, and correct the wrongdoing.
Your number one priority for your children is not getting food on the table at a particular time…it’s to continually train them. Don’t neglect this responsibility simply because you are being task-orientated at the moment. If dinner is burned one night because you had to divert your attention from the stove top to the squabbling siblings in the living room, perhaps a burnt meal is just the cure your kids need. (You just get to grin and bear the burnt food, too. Consider it a practice in not complaining.)
Once you actually get the food to the table, a myriad of other problems can arise. Following are a few ideas for some common mealtime problems.
“Yuck. I hate Brussels sprouts and pork chops.” Hmmm…tomorrow night, instead of Brussels sprouts and pork chops, how about serving a Mozambique dinner instead…a small cake-bread made of maize. Perhaps sprouts and chops won’t taste so yucky next time.Too many conversations. Mealtime can (and should!) be a time for developing the family bonds…that can’t be done if everyone is talking at the same time. Teach your children to listen first…is someone else in the middle of a sentence? Train them to wait their turn. This takes some time to implement with younger children, but it can be done. Always remember that telling your children something once is not training them. Consider athletes…did Sasha Cohen’s coach simply tell her how to do a triple Salchow and then she went out and flawlessly executed it? No…she had to practice it over and over. Your children will need to practice not interrupting in order to learn the skill.
Direct the conversation. Consider having a daily question that each person takes a turn to answer. Simple questions from “What fun thing did you do today?” to more thought provoking questions “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?” are fun ways to facilitate discussion. Or, take some time one afternoon and have your kids write questions on 3×5 cards. Keep the cards near the napkins and select a card or two each evening. To decide who speaks first, simply going around the table, going oldest to youngest, or in birthday order (January, February, etc) are simple ways to make sure everyone will get their turn to answer.
Jack-in-the-Boxes. If staying in his seat is a challenge for one of your children, you need to correct this habit right away because it is contagious. Once one child is allowed to get up from the table without permission, the others will soon follow. Don’t buy their excuses “I just need to go get this…” “I just have to…” Teach your children to ask before they get up (keep in mind I’m not simply talking about after the meal, I’m talking about during it).
As you’ve probably experienced, young children rarely have a reason to get up…they just do it. If there is something your child needs, teach them to ask. “Mommy, may I please get up and get a spoon to eat my corn with?” rather than a child just getting up and heading who knows where (ok, he knows he’s heading to the spoon drawer, but he needs to ask first). Some solutions I’ve known moms to do: take away the chair of a child who can’t sit in it and require him to eat standing up; take away a favorite evening time privilege (no video or computer time, 15 minutes earlier to bed, etc); or remove the child to a different room—eating dinner “in exile” on a TV tray facing the kitchen wall is an appropriate response to a child whose constant up and down is a distraction to others.
- posted by Donna Venning, who recently spent an entire dinner conversation discussing what Lego bricks one would need to make a meal out of Lego. Too bad Lego doesn’t make broccoli shaped pieces!