Teaching Kids To Sit And Eat
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Having a nice meal at home or at someone else’s house may mean that your kids need to sit at the table for some period of time. This may be difficult for some kids.
Some kids will sit and eat a meal without issue it would seem. Those are definitely not my kids. Most nights it seems like a struggle to get kids to sit and eat a full meal without something moving them out of their seat.
Of course, this isn’t generally a big issue at home. We don’t have other people at our house, and it’s just us as a family. However, the real problem is that this same behavior isn’t just something that happens at home. If we’re at someone else’s home for a meal, it’s the same thing.
Teaching kids to sit and eat their meals is something that you’ll need to do on a consistent basis. This is a common theme among parenting - consistency is your number one tool in teaching your child how to do something. This is because you want them to understand that this is the expectation, and when you change those expectations then it confuses your child.
Below are several things that we’ve worked on that have helped our kids become better at sitting at the table during meal times.
Eat at the same time
If you eat your meals at different times everyday, it’s going to be tough for your child to get into a rhythm as to what the expectations are. Eating at random times is confusing to a younger child.
You can still eat at different times throughout the week, but be consistent about it. For example, perhaps you eat later on the weekends because everyone is sleeping in (not likely with young kids). Or perhaps you always go out to eat on a specific night. Whatever the reason, just be consistent.
Eat together, everyone sitting
When you do have meals, try to have everyone sit and eat. If an adult is running all around while your child is eating, they’re going to want to as well. This may be tough, but it will be helpful as you're teaching a child to sit and eat.
This is tough for me, but I try to do it when I’m at home feeding the kids. As I’m on an intermittent fasting diet, it happens that I won’t be eating so I generally am doing things in the kitchen - this is distracting to the kids. If I sit down with them, they’re much more likely to stay in their seats as well.
Try to make time every week where you’re all just sitting together and eating. This can be tough with multiple kids and schedules, but it will go a long way in helping your kids to sit and eat, while also building family relationships.
Always sit at the table
Don’t let some meals be eaten at the TV, or somewhere else. Meals need to be eaten at the table. If you let some meals be more relaxed, your kids are going to want to go to that mode more often.
This is the biggest issue that we’ve had to overcome. Too often, breakfast is a simple meal for us and our kids are watching a show when they wake up. They want to take their food in to watch TV. This leads to lazy eating because they grab some food and then go lay down, or it leads to big messes if they’ve taken the food into the living room. Force eating to be done at the table.
Take food (or other privileges) away after 1 or 2 warnings
As your kids are older, if they’re still not staying at the table, it may be time to become more firm in your actions. Make sure that you’re very up front with your child about what the consequences will be if they do not stay at the table and eat their food.
For example, you may tell your child that if they do not finish their food that you will take their food away, and they will only eat at the next meal. You may give them a warning, and they say next time that the food will be taken away. If you do take the food away, tell them they will eat at the next meal, and that they must sit and eat. Your child will not starve themselves, and will learn that they must sit and eat.
You don’t have to use food as the driver in this case. You could say that there will be no TV, or video games, or whatever it is that they enjoy if they don’t sit and eat the whole time. The reason food is easier is because your child may be done eating (not want anymore food), but you’re telling them they have to finish. Ultimately, if your goal is to get them to sit for a set period of time, then using something outside of the food is a good choice. If you’re trying to have them sit and eat until they’re full, then the food is the better option.
It will take a lot of work to teach a child to sit and eat without getting up many times. Be patient and persistent.