Do you have a hard time keeping your small children seated at the dinner table? Do you find yourself perpetually coaxing them to eat their meal?
Mealtime with toddlers isn’t the most relaxing experience you can go through, but it doesn’t always have to be stressful. There are ways to make family mealtimes calmer and happier even with a willful toddler around.
Understanding Toddler Attitude toward Food
You have to be radical to solve the issue. Go to the root to see why toddlers typically exhibit a low interest in mealtimes. In knowing the cause, you diminish a big percentage of your stress. Solutions fortunately also ensue.
Why do toddlers seem less interested in mealtime than they were as babies?
- It’s typical for this stage of toddler development. They have a smaller appetite now that they’re not growing as quickly.
- They’re trying out their independence and tend to use their favorite word “no” with gusto.
- They want to practice their increasing movement skills and prefer to play and explore more than sit down and eat.
Keeping the Peace and Joy at Mealtimes
The world has become an exciting place with so many fascinating things to discover for the little adventurers. This is why the dinner table is often a battle zone between toddlers who want to escape it and parents who are determined to keep them there.
As a parent, you want to get the power struggle to cease. At the same time, you want to enjoy your victory by seeing your children enjoy their meal.
How can you achieve calm and happy mealtimes with little ones who are bent on making it difficult for everybody? Here are some tried and tested strategies.
1. Make time for transition.
Toddlers are likely playing right before they’re called to the table. Getting them to disengage can take time – and tears. Don’t expect them to snap to feeding mode right away.
It’s better to allow them time to gradually switch gears. Introduce the change and give them a few minutes to get used to the idea.
Try to be playful in telling them that it’s suppertime. For instance, you can start singing “The Wheels on the Bus” and after a few verses, you can adlib and sing, “The mommies on the bus say, ‘Time to eat, time to eat,’” and then follow with “The children on the bus say, ‘Yum yum yum, Yum yum yum.’”
2. Ease into the meal with a ritual.
A cue that dinner’s about to start also helps. It can be switching to softer dinner lights, ringing the dinner bell, or assigning somebody to say grace.
Family traditions are healthy, warming, and precious for children to be exposed to. A little dinner ritual like this certainly contributes to the list. In this case, it’s also both practical and sentimental.
Your children will learn to look forward to it as part of the mealtime experience.
3. Have a bunch of distraction tactics at the ready.
Toddlers may lose interest mid-stream, so be ready to redirect their attention.
When they start expressing their desire to leave the table, you can start entertaining them with a story or a song about something that’s on the table. You can goofily pretend to be the peas inviting your toddler to try them out. You can try some impromptu artwork and form a face or a flower using the food on their plate.
Get creative and use your imagination.
4. Compromise and allow a toy.
To make toddlers more comfortable with settling down for a meal, let them have something that will keep them happy staying put at the table.
Feeding experts say this is okay for toddlers. The usual cut-off age is at four to five years old when they’ll naturally stop needing it.
5. Include your children in the conversation.
With young children, mealtime is not the best time for the adults to discuss topics of their interest, such as the bills, the people they know, current events and politics, etc.
Nothing makes young children antsier to leave the table than being excluded from the conversation and having the grownups talking over their heads.
Focus your attention on your kids and get ready to talk about the things that engage their curiosity.
Other Reminders for a Smooth-Sailing Suppertime
- Let them exercise independence by giving them a choice of which available food to eat and letting them decide how much to eat.
- Schedule snacks hours before mealtime so they don’t ruin their appetite.
- Keep servings small and let them indicate if they want more.
- Be patient and calm when they make a mess, when they refuse new food, or when they start whining; it’s normal toddler behavior.
- Avoid negative food messages by labeling them as “good” or “bad” (use “everyday” or “sometimes” instead) and by using them to reward or punish.
Happy, Organized Chaos
It may be against their nature, but you can get your little ones to sit still long enough to eat their dinner. They will be difficult, but the tone of the meal rests on your response.
Mealtimes with toddlers will never be a leisurely walk at the park, but with some preparation and the right mindset, there’s no reason why they can’t be peaceful and enjoyable.