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12 September 2022

Eating with children

Eating with children is not easy. They often don't empty their plates, spill a lot, complain that they don't like it or want to leave the table. This blog will share some tips on how best to deal with children at the table.

Tip 1: Less appetite, it can be done
Make sure the expectations you have of your child are realistic. Toddlers often find it difficult to sit still for long periods of time. They are easily distracted. In addition, they quickly become restless and fussy if they think the meal is too long or boring for them. Some things they will not like (yet). As long as you offer them varied food, there is no need to force them to eat anything. All children have days when they are less hungry.

Tip 2: Eat at fixed times
It is best to have three meals a day, plus a snack at set times in the morning and afternoon. Give your child a portion that you know he/she can finish. Let your child ask for more when he/she has eaten it all. Explain to your child that he/she is only allowed to eat at these times and is not allowed to grab snacks himself/herself. It may be useful to set a fixed time for the duration of the meal. Make it clear to your child how long meals will be eaten. Often 20 to 30 minutes is enough. It may be helpful to use a (cooking) alarm clock for this.

Tip 3: Communicate table rules
Prepare your child for dinner so that he/she has time to finish what he/she is doing. At the table, tell what rules there are. Limit yourself to 2 or 3 rules. When telling your child the rules, try to say what is allowed instead of what is not. For example: 'stay seated until you can leave the table', 'eat with a spoon or fork' or 'empty your mouth before you talk'. You can choose that your child eventually learns to list the rules himself. Decide in advance how you will respond to unwanted behaviour. Tell your child what will happen if he/she does not follow the rules.

Tip 4: Reward your child
If your child follows the rules well, you might like to reward him/her for this. Tell your child what the reward is if he/she abides by the rules while eating. For example: special drink or food, a game after dinner or an extra story before bedtime.

Tip 5: At the table when dinner is ready
Make sure everything you need is ready before telling your child he/she can go to the table. That way you can avoid unnecessary waiting. Put your child on his/her chair when dinner is ready. Put toys or other things that can be distracting out of sight. Turn off the television, for example.

Tip 6: Asking and telling
Praise your child if he/she eats properly and sticks to the rules. While doing so, encourage your child not to talk until their mouth is empty. Try to get a conversation going by, for example, asking about what your child experienced. You can also choose to tell something about your day yourself. This way, the emphasis is not so much on whether or not you ate a lot, but more on socialising.

Tip 7: Ignore small problems
Small problems such as whining, nagging, dawdling or playing with the food are best 'appropriately ignored'. Eat quietly yourself and don't look at your child. Keep this up until the problem behaviour stops. For example, involve him/her in the conversation again. Be prepared that the behaviour often gets worse first when you start ignoring. If you first ignore behaviour for a while and then start responding anyway, your child will learn that he must continue. Of course, there are some behaviours that are difficult to ignore such as repeatedly leaving the table, frolicking with siblings or throwing toys. If this occurs, tell your child to stop this immediately and tell him/her what to do.

Tip 8: Stop unwanted behaviour
Separate your child if he/she does not do what you ask or does not follow the rules again. Tell your child what did not go well and what the consequence of this is. Put your child close to you, on a chair. Tell your child he/she has to be quiet for 2 minutes before he/she is allowed to leave the quiet sitting area. During the sitting still, do not pay attention to your child. If your child cannot sit still, proceed to the time-out method. This means that you remove your child from the situation where the problem arose. The purpose of this is to allow your child to calm down again. Take your child to an uninteresting space or room and tell them to be quiet for 2 minutes. Praise your child as soon as he/she behaves well. You may well have to repeat the quiet or time-out a few times before the unwanted behaviour stops.

Tip 9: Compliment after meal
The meal will be over after about 20 or 30 minutes, or earlier if everyone has finished eating. Remove the plates from the table even if your child has not finished eating. After eating, tell your child what you thought went well during the meal. Praise your child and give the reward you agreed for the time. Don't give any more food until the next meal. Or briefly describe the rule your child forgot and set a goal for next time. For example: 'Tomorrow we will try again to do stay at the table'

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