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.
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