Mealtimes are an important part of family life but all
too often they become areas of tension. Poor manners, challenging
food preferences, and just plain selfishness can turn mealtimes
into battle zones. In addition, differing parenting styles
tend to add to the friction.
Parents need to come to some level of agreement on how
to address these challenges if families are going to get
the most out of mealtime. We believe that much of the individual
discipline needs can be dealt with during other parts of
the day, so that mealtime can be preserved for relationship.
It’s important to have regular times to eat together.
Mealtimes are more than just times to consume food. They’re
opportunities to dialogue and build relationship together.
Turn off the TV, require all members to come to the table
and interact together. Here are some strategies to get
the most out of your mealtimes.
1) Busyness often crowds out family time. Carve out times
to be together around meals as much as you can. If you’re
too busy to eat together, you’re likely too busy.
2) De-emphasize manners and diet. It’s been said that
more meals are ruined at the table than at the stove. An
overemphasis on manners and diet can turn the whole mealtime
into a negative experience. Yes, manners are important
and teaching them is helpful, but be careful not to make
that the dominant focus of the meal. Often gentle reminders
are enough to move children in the right direction.
3) If you’re concerned about what your child is eating,
look for strategic ways to change it rather than using
direct confrontation during a meal. You might offer only
healthy snacks between meals, serve very small portions
on children’s plates and allow them to ask for more, and
focus on conversation rather than on food. It’s often more
important what children hear and say during that mealtime
than what they eat. After all, hunger is a natural consequence
of not eating, and kids appetites vary, so allow them to
determine how much they want to eat. Also allow curiosity
to motivate them to try new things, not parental mandates.
4) Plan the social component of the mealtime not just
the food. Bring stories, jokes, riddles, and other fun
dialogue to the table. Let kids talk about their highlight
and lowlight of the day. Engage children in positive interaction
and watch the fun bubble up around the table.
5) A child who detracts from the mealtime may need to
be disciplined. Bad attitudes, anger, or resistance may
all require correction of one kind or another. Rarely is
it beneficial to send a child to his or her room since
that’s usually a place of entertainment and distractions.
Having a child take a Break in the hallway or on the bottom
step of the stairs until settled down and ready to participate
may be all that’s needed.
Remember that mealtimes can be an excellent time to illustrate
family values through stories and examples. You’ll also
be able to trouble shoot problems and teach children how
to face the challenges of their days. A little readjustment
of your focus and attitude can turn mealtimes into a pleasant
and productive experience for everyone.