Dinner time with kids isn’t quite the same. You’ve had a couple of kids and are now realizing that the chaos that ensues with a toddler at the dinner table is overwhelming. If you were to peek into my household during dinner time a year ago, you would probably run screaming in the opposite direction. You would probably have witnessed my kids running circles around the table, their food untouched, and me sobbing into my dinner plate. After many nights of this kind of nonsense, I decided something had to change, and fast!
As I started to pay attention to the causes of my dinner time chaos, I discovered three significant areas where I could be doing a better job at helping my kids stay seated and behave better during meal times.
Help Your Toddler Stay Seated at the Dinner Table
1. The Menu
“I am not a restaurant!” mothers everywhere yell while simultaneously preparing their kids a different meal than what she has prepared for the family. While this is absolutely true, I have since learned that there needs to be ONE thing on the table that you know your child will eat. So, for instance, no matter what the family is eating, I will also put some yogurt or applesauce on my toddler’s plate. Because let’s be real, our kids do have to eat. Unfortunately, while some kids will obey graciously and eat what we put in front of them, others will not.
Part of the misbehavior we were having at the table was because they weren’t eating anything. They would immediately reject whatever I was serving and then want to get down. So now, I offer something that I know they will eat, and it trains them to know that they are expected to sit at the dinner table during dinner time, whether they eat everything on their plate or not.
2. Distract, Distract, Distract!
Once your toddler is finished, he’ll likely want to leave the dinner table immediately. To combat this habit, our family started enforcing strict rules. First, until mom and dad are done eating, they must stay at the table. Then, once we are done eating, we allow them to be excused. And then, if my husband and I want to sit and chat a little longer, we do.
If you have younger ones you can’t reason with yet, bring a few toys to the table and try to distract with those for a few more minutes. Keep the conversation focused on interacting with them. This isn’t easy to do because you want to catch up on all of the day’s events with your spouse. But don’t lose focus on the end goal!
3. Stay Consistent!
I also realized I wasn’t consistent. Some nights I would let them eat before my husband and me, or I would let them down when they wanted to be let down. Or I would offer them a bunch of different dinner choices. This was making my life a lot harder. So I started noting what areas I deemed most important and began being consistent in those areas.
I now consistently prioritize dinner time every evening. I also always put at least one option that they will eat on the table and consistently reinforce staying seated. We also make it a point to practice manners and properly use utensils. And I always model the behavior I expect out of them at the dinner table, and over time they caught on.
I was so envious of other parents at restaurants who could go out to eat with their families, and their toddlers would stay seated nicely at the dinner table until the food came. Then they would eat their dinner without it being a fight or a mess afterward, and when they finished and left, everyone was still happy! Very different from our battle scene that happened every time we went out, leaving us feeling defeated and embarrassed.
That’s when I realized that well-behaved kids didn’t just magically happen (duh!). If my kids were ever going to go to a restaurant again, our dinners at home needed to model how I expected them to behave out at restaurants. That is when we got serious about our mealtimes. Now I can say that going out to eat has gotten much better! Stick with it, mama, you can do it!