“Chew with your mouth closed.”
“Take a bite of broccoli.”
“Don’t spit that out!”
“Keep your bottom on the chair.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Use your fork.”
“Try it. I know you’ll like it”
“COME BACK TO THE TABLE!”
Does this sound familiar? This is a fairly common mealtime soundtrack, one that I catch myself falling back into regularly. The other thing I’ve noticed is that the more instructions I give, the less likely my children are to respond. When I try to take the perspective of my children, it’s no wonder they don’t want to be at mealtime.
This time that is supposed to be about nourishment and social interactions actually can feel pretty negative and not fun. It’s a constant conscious effort to change my own behavior at mealtimes, especially after an exhausting day. While it isn’t easy, I’ll be the first to tell you it is very much worth it. So, here are some ways to be more thoughtful about mealtime related instructions to improve the experience for everyone.
- Be mindful of your instructions before you give them. Is it actually worth it? For example, my 6 year old wiggles in her chair constantly. She’s typically only half sitting in it and for some reason, it is one of those things that just drives me batty. But, the important thing is she is present and she is eating and she is talking to us about her day. So as difficult as it is for me not to say something, I try to make that one mealtime instruction I avoid giving.
- Praise your child when they follow an instruction. It’s so easy and natural to just move on when your child follows an instruction, but they need to hear that they are doing well in order to have any motivation to continue to follow them. A simple “Wow! You took a bite of something new!” goes a long way.
- Catch the good! Are you always repeating the same instruction over and over again? Try to catch your child doing the right thing before you have to remind them! Does your child get up from the table constantly? Catch them before they leave to say they’re doing the right thing. “Hey, I love how you’ve been sitting with us this whole time!” It’s easy to ignore the good but acknowledging appropriate behavior is much more likely to increase it in the long run.
I’m going to challenge you to track the instructions you give at the next few mealtimes. Pay attention to your child’s responses. Then, try the above strategies and note the difference it makes for both you and your children. Is mealtime starting to feel more enjoyable and less stressful?