Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Popcorn Children at the Table

Bonnie wrote:
“I was wondering if you could ever do a blog on children who don't want to sit at the table during the whole meal the parents have to constantly struggle to keep them seated and eating? We are talking 4 year olds and then a 2 year old and an infant. My daughter is really struggling with the 4 year old and I thought you might have a suggestion.”

We had a little bouncer, too. We never even tried to count the number of times in a meal she was out of her seat. Because she sat in a booster seat until she was almost 5, that kept her in the chair until then. But what did we do after that?

To start with, both of us sat at the table and if one had to leave to serve or get more napkins, the other always stayed seated. We noticed that the more I was able to stay in my chair, the more the kids stayed in theirs, even if Dad had to get up. So I tried to be organized, meals were ready on time and everything* was on the table when we all sat down together to hold hands and give thanks.

We learned that Rosana, our little seat jumper, couldn’t just tell a story with words, she needed to demonstrate the story! So if she was telling about something that happened at school and jumped out of her seat to use hand motions or act it out, we let her, as long as she stayed beside her chair and climbed back up when she was done. 

When the children were young we usually had meals that only lasted about half an hour or less and they were meant to be fun times. Jim and I didn’t come to the table expecting to scold or air grievances. We came intending to create a fun, relaxed time of talking and listening and enjoying good food. Remember--that was the ideal!

On the food front, I tried to make meals that, while nutritious, my children would enjoy and be able to eat on their own, either with their hands when they were little or with age and size appropriate cutlery as they grew older. I introduced new flavors and vegetables from time to time, but I wanted the meal to be something they enjoyed.

We also had an “end of meal” activity. After breakfast Jim would pray a blessing on the day. When we had finished dinner we had short, age appropriate devotions. Everyone knew we weren’t done until then. During the Bible story, Rosana often got out of her seat to act out the story as we read it. That definitely kept a twinkle in Jim’s eyes and mine!

Krista, mother of three elementary aged children, and a teacher, adds, “I would suggest coloring sheets or dry erase place mats to draw on, or other activities to keep their attention while waiting for others to finish. Rewarding good behavior is helpful too.  A sticker chart for staying in their seat, and if it's a big problem it might even start as a sticker for every few minutes they stay in their seat.  The more successful they are you increase the expectation and wait time for reward, eventually phasing out rewards when no longer needed.”

When the parents model and expect a behavior, the children will often learn it. As Rosana said recently when I asked her about why she had chosen to do something that I was happy about, “Kids want to please their parents.” If you are consistent, gentle, upbeat, and firm, a child will generally come to a stage where they conform. Be encouraged!

*I tend to forget napkins and since our house in Bogota only had an eating area outside the kitchen, I usually jumped up right after prayer to get the napkins. 

What do you say?
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