How to get kids to eat at the table, Part III

Apr 6, 2010 by

Answering a reader’s question about how to stop children’s complaining, playing around and dawdling at the dinner table.

Lindsey,

I have some more thoughts on the question.

I think you need a bit less nonchalance about your son’s behavior and a bit more nonchalance—masterly inactivity, a purposeful leaving alone—about the eating itself.

I suggest laying down the law on behavior at the table: we do not come to the table and complain. Nor do we play around and dawdle. I’m sure you don’t want him to get in the habit of fussing and whining and being disagreeable. I know you would not like him to go to someone else’s house and express himself that way. Or treat his wife that way someday. You son needs to be taught that if he wants to eat dinner with the family, he has to be polite.  I’m sure he will decide that, yes, he does want to eat and he does want to be with the family, if encouraged to think about it.

He can refuse any dish by saying, “No, thank you,” and he doesn’t have to eat or even try anything at all, ever. If he whines and is rude about the food (or anything else), he will be sent from the table and not be allowed to come back that evening. He has the choice: be hungry or follow the expectations and eat with his family. I would be very calm and unemotional about this announcement. Act like it’s no big deal, be matter-of-fact, but this is how it’s going to be now.

That said, know that even subtle pressure to eat will arouse resistance. I would avoid arguing with him about what or how much he eats, or urging him in any way to try anything at all, ever. Refuse to get pulled into that power struggle. I wouldn’t pester him at all, at the table or elsewhere at a more neutral time, about his fussiness. The more you try to talk him out of it the tighter he will cling. It seems to give him a power and identity as “the picky one” that he is enjoying. The attention he’s getting about it is perpetuating it, probably. My guess is that he is gratified and affirmed by being asked to “just try it” and being able to refuse.

Far better to pull food away from him than push it on him. Let him reach out and ask for it, and be the one to make his eating happen. He won’t let himself starve. If nobody presses him about eating, nobody cares what or how much he eats, he will give up the fight, I predict. How much and what he eats should be entirely up to him. Your job is only to provide only foods you are happy with him eating, have regular meals and snacks, and provide a pleasant atmosphere at the table, which includes insisting on manners.

It’s time for you to stop knocking on his door to sell. Let him start knocking on your door to buy. He will come around.

In the spirit of pulling away instead of pushing, I would also limit the length of the meal. Instead of telling them to hurry up and eat, just end the meal. Quit pushing him; instead pull away and let him come forward.

(How to use Negative Reverse Selling at the Dinner Table)

Set up a natural urgency to eat. Instead of adapting to them, let them adapt to you, without being mean about it. Let hunger be their problem to solve. They’ll learn quickly that dawdling leads directly to regret a bit later when they find themselves still hungry. I would warn them before dinner one night that this was how it was going to be, and then do it that night.

Your kids can be trained that when the parents stop eating and are sitting there no longer eating, they had better make haste if they still need more food, thus tuning them in to their own appetites. They should know the signs that the end is near. You can start clearing away and that should be their clear signal that their time is up. I’d be really cool and calm about it, but just start removing their plates when it’s time. Let their appetites wake up and teach them urgency.

Related posts:

How to get kids to eat at the table, part I

How to get kids to eat at the table Part II:

Wisely passive techniques to get kids to eat

13 comments
Lucy Hildebrandt
Lucy Hildebrandt

Wow, what great advice! I'm going to try this tonight!

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Lucy, sorry for the SLLLOOOOW response time to your comment on my blog. Thanks for reading and your comment! Did you try my advice about getting your kids to eat at the table? I'd love to hear how it went and how it's going for you now.

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Nikki, thanks so much for your kind comments! I hope to hear more on your thoughts about parenting philosophies!

Nikki
Nikki

What a great article & blog! I'm beyond excited to find this. I agree completely with the principles you have addressed & am so grateful to have a few reminders to keep my family eating happily & healthily! I absolutely believe that the way we handle our eating within families reflects our entire parenting philosophies.

Lindsay
Lindsay

well said indeed! :)

chanelle
chanelle

Really good ideas, thanks!

Rosie_Kate
Rosie_Kate

Great post! I'll be sharing this one!

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Thanks, Rosie Kate! Thanks for reading!

Lindsey
Lindsey

Wow, did I need to hear this... Thank you so much. I am e-mailing this to my husband right now, and you better believe dinnertime is going to get a lot more pleasant real (I'm from Texas) soon! Thank you, thank you!

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Lindsey, how are things going at the table? I would love to know....

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Lindsey, I don't know if you get these messages. I went on your blog looking for a way to send you a message and didn't want to use comments on a blog to do that. Anyway, I am working on getting opportunities to present seminars on feeding children, and I would treasure your input if things have worked out well for you following our conversation here.

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Lindsey, I'm thrilled that what I said seems to be what you needed to hear. I think it's a common problem. Dying to know how it goes. . .

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  1. […] How to get kids to eat at the table, Part III Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Kid vs food Categories: Uncategorized Tags: consequences for not eating, eating and misbehavior, making kids eat Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

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