“What’s for dinner, Mom?” Something nasty you’re going to hate.
Is there any question more hated by moms than this? In my house, with four voices (five if you count my husband and eliminate the ‘Mom’ tag) constantly calling this out to me on a seemingly well-timed rotation from the minute they walk through the front door, I have narrowed my response to the following (learned through trial and error):
- “Chicken, vegetable and potato”. (I mean, really, what else is there?) To which they respond:
- The gross kind of chicken?
- Can I just eat my leftover lunch?
- What’s a potato?
“Leftover Buffet!” Their return volley:
- Is it that gross chicken again?
- Is there ketchup?
- ‘Leftover’ does not tell me anything, MOTHER.
- Can I go to Liam’s house? His Mom’s a good cook.
“I just got in. What do you think we should have?” (Why, oh why did I ever go there…)
- Something good for a change.
- Pizza. But not the gross kind YOU make.
- Why did you ask him? Why don’t I get to pick? (Whack) He sucks! MOM!
- You always ask that and then you always get to pick anyway. It’s not fair.
- “Something nasty and you’re going to hate it.” (Really there can be no response to this as they all agree.)
So I’ve learned that, once again, as with Parent/Teacher interviews, just don’t ask the questions you really don’t want the answers to. Now what the hell should I make for dinner tonight? Oops, just did it again.
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Is it reasonable for my child to sit at the table for a whole meal? How do I get him to stay there?
Children need to learn to sit at the table along with other social skills that they aren’t born with. When teaching our children, we start by understanding our key values (courtesy, peacefulness, respect, and self-discipline) and our long-term vision for our children (polite, healthy, and interdependent). Once we know where to start and where we are going, setting clear expectations becomes easier.
Discuss the full plan with your child ahead of time. Set an expectation that he sits to eat his food and then remains at the table for a slightly extended period of time. Engage him in conversation or give him a choice of crayons, paper, or Cheerios (if he has eaten his meal) to extend the time. Set him up for success by making the time just slightly longer than he currently sits. Over the next few weeks, lengthen the duration by short amounts. Four year-olds should be able to sit for 20–30 minutes—presuming they have learned how to do this.
Be aware of what is happening during dinner:
- Are you having dinner when the children are hungry or feeding them snacks until everyone is home for dinner? It is hard to sit and eat when already full.
- Are you sitting down as a family and actually engaging in conversation? You don’t have to talk with your children the whole time—they need to learn to be part of the give-and-take in conversation.
- Children will not sit as easily if parents are not sitting, are emailing, or are only engaged in adult conversation.
- Lastly, if we only attend to our kids for unacceptable behaviour at the table, they will continue to seek attention by misbehaving.
With a little patience and effort, meal time can become a true family affair.
Eat… sit… and be merry.
Yes, it’s that time of year when we gather around the table and enjoy holiday dinner with our extended family. Joy right? Ahh, not so much, especially if you are stressed about your uncouth seven year-old son’s behaviour. Will he break bread or break wind, or worse, toss bread? Or pout about hating his gravy touching his peas. Shouting “Where are your manners?” is just as much a part of the festive meal as the cranberry sauce.
We forget our children have substandard table manners until they’re under scrutiny of company and extended family. Suddenly we think that a stern look or a quiet reminder is somehow going to snap them into shape like yet another Christmas miracle.
We have to invest some time BEFORE the holidays to prepare our kids for the ways we expect them to behave when we have company. Here is my quickie table manners course:
Alyson’s Table Manners Bootcamp
- Don’t teach table manners during the special occasions. Instead, have some ‘fancy’ family dinners together in the dinner room with china, crystal, and gravy boats on a Sunday night. Get dressed up. Make it over-the-top fun, like you’re actors in a play. “Pardon me Jeeves, but would you care for some more water with lime in your goblet?”
- Teach instead of correct. Discuss manners in a relaxed ‘did you know’ way. Usually we just correct children for their mistakes which they hear as criticism. “Your bread plate is the one on the left” is nicer than “Hey, that’s not your plate, use the other one”.
- Explain that there are different levels of manners. These are based on the formality of the occasion. It may be okay to skip the napkin when you are eating grilled cheese for lunch, but Christmas dinner means you need to put the cloth napkin on your lap. Discuss this BEFORE company arrives. If you don’t, your children will think you are inconsistent and are just making up different rules all the time.
Create a list of misbehaviours (privately) that you specifically want to parent around and tackle them NOW. Three common ones and their solutions are:
- Interrupting while others are speaking. Try passing around the salt shaker, and whoever has it has the floor and can speak while others listen. You may also need to bring a timer from a board game to the table to make sure no-one fillabusts longer than three minutes.
- Getting up and down from the table. Try applying a logical consequence: “If you get up from the table, that tells me you are done the meal”. If your child opts to leave the table, so be it. Quietly and calmly remove their plate, and don’t offer alternative food until the next meal time. They’ll soon learn to stay at the table and eat enough to fill their tummy.
- Disturbing by bubbling milk and other hijinks. Most dinner disturbances serve to keep the limelight on the child. Instead of responding to misbehaviors with nagging and reminding, ignore poor manners and use distraction to engage the child in a more positive conversation. Ask them about their favorite superhero, or what they want to be when they grow up.
If your children don’t use their manners, you can excuse them from the table and invite them to come back when they do want to use their manners. Or you can excuse yourself and choose to eat in the kitchen where you don’t have to watch poor table manners.
Try some of these in the weeks to come BEFORE the big holiday feast with family. And when in doubt, you can always have the kids and cousins eat at a card table in the basement!
I had a dinner party this weekend. It was a Hunger Games themed dinner party which may or may not have included a “Pin the Arrow on Katniss’ Face” competition. But not all dinner parties have to be that fancy. They’re not as much work as you think.
At my house, inviting people over for dinner works for me on several interesting and often unexpected levels.
- I have to clean my house. If people are coming over, I have to make at least a token effort to tidy up. I don’t think people outside of my immediate family will feel comfortable kicking aside the Tonka truck in order to get to the toilet in the main floor powder room. And what is that sticky thing on the floor under the kitchen table? It’s been there for weeks.
- I get to choose the menu. This gives me a lot of flexibility. I can decide to either show off in front of my guests, or serve them crap and hope they’ll be grateful I worked them into our busy social schedule.
- I can drink without having to worry about driving or coming up with cab fare. Hello. This is important as I am always solely responsible for items #1 and #2.
- I can legitimately say to my husband, ‘You need to get the kids out of the house all day so I can clean and cook.’ Then I can quickly sweep, start thawing something frozen, and have the house to myself. This allows me to start in on item #3 well in advance of the guests.
- I don’t have to leave before I want to.
- I seriously think the calories you consume at your own dinner party are simultaneously burned off by all the running, serving and worrying about how your children are leaving the bathroom every time they go in there. And what your husband is laughing about every time you enter the room.
- Next week at the bus stop, I can casually drop into the conversation a line like, ‘Well at my dinner party last week…’ The other Moms never need to know that it consisted of takeout food and a case of beer in the middle of the table. I love the words ‘dinner party,’ don’t you? What’s better than dinner, and a party?
- As a woman, I am aware that whom I don’t invite to my dinner party is just as important as whom I do. You know what I mean. Stop pretending you don’t.
- I can use a dinner party as an excuse to get my husband to clean the entire house while I go to the grocery store. What he doesn’t need to know is that I bought all the groceries online and had them delivered yesterday, and am really at the Starbucks having a coffee. It’s called ‘me time.’
- Because I’m hosting, I can get rid of annoying people whenever I want. Usually the sight of my husband nodding off on the couch will do it. Usually. Sometimes I resort to putting out an air mattress on the floor for him. Okay, frequently.
(Excerpted from Shut Up and Eat! Tales of Chicken, Children and Chardonnay, Key Porter Books, 2010, Kathy Buckworth)
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