Every meal was a battle that frequently ended in tears.
For starters, I (stupidly) bought into the idea that she "had to" eat what was given to her. That if she didn't I would be fostering bad table manners, fussy eating habits blah blah blah.
Now that I have baby #2 and Bella is older, I have found better ways to go about meal times.
I wanted to share them here so that you feel you have a go-to option when things are a bit tough at meal time.
Our Table Rules
Rule #1: Try Everything TWICE!
If after trying it twice, if they do not like it then leave it. I try it again another time.
I don't punish them for trying something and deciding they do not like it, as it undermines the process.
They need to be given power to choose for themselves however to be given that power they need to engage in trying new things. Its fair value exchange and a great principle to learn from a young age, I feel.
Rule #2: Leave It - Don't Complain
"I Don't Like It MUM!"
I work hard, and am often tired of a night so to be met with constant complaints is just plain rude in my opinion! Of course, young children do not know that yet so what better way to teach them?
Additionally, I am equipping my children to eat out and eat at friends' houses later. What kind of example is being set by allowing them to complain to me about food? If they go someone's house and sit at the table whinging about the food it's doubtful that they would be invited back. I personally find it very rude listening to other children groan and carry on at the table.
The rule is not to silence them or force them to eat something they don't like.
It's to empower them to choose - politely.
If they do not like it, they can leave it on their plate. The chooks will eat it happily, I can enjoy our meal time without complaining and whinging and my children can be empowered to choose for themselves PLUS develop good manners for later in life.
RUle #3: Finish For Dessert
I will not reward my children by offering them dessert when they have not eaten their main meal. In our house, the reason for that is that I do not cook things I know they hate so often not eating their meal is simply an attempt at asserting their authority.
Sure - they can assert their authority; its part of the process of growing up! They can not however be rewarded for doing so when it is not appropriate to do so.
Part of learning when it is appropriate and inappropriate to assert themselves and their power is by choosing. If they choose to not eat something that they willingly ate the day before, that is fine. They just will not be rewarded for it.
It's like later in life, by telling your boss to "get bent" or loafing on the job because you don't like doing a task that you were hired to do... you are not going to be rewarded for that behaviour are you?
Again, for me, it comes back to equipping my children to succeed later in life.
Rule #4: Tantrums Not Allowed
And it was hell.
I have learned from my children and grown since that time. It happens a lot less now and when it does, it's usually not about the food. Its usually something else that is going on and I can manage it better [experience is a great teacher isn't it?]
On the rare time it does happen, it is usually tiredness setting in. I simply clear their plates and put them into bed. This can cause another eruption of temper - again, usually being over tired - however they know that Mummy is firm about this.
There is to be no temper tantrums at my table - ever. We can talk about things, we can disagree, that is fine. As soon as temper comes out, I remove myself and / or them and allow the situation to calm down.
For us, the dinner table is a place of calm and coming together. Fits of rage and temper outbursts do not bring people together - they push people away. To my mind, if someone - even a little person - feels like pushing others away, then I find it's often best to let them be alone... in their room.
After way too many escalations in the past I have found this simple little rule is actually more beneficial for me than the kids.
Nothing riles me faster than a display of temper over something silly, after a long day!
I will only be able to remain calm for a short period often times because I too am tired and so removing the kids and putting them into a bath, shower or bed gives me a much needed time out too.
The situation does not tend to escalate, they get rest, I get a Timeout - it's a win / win all round. That is always the goal isn't it?
Rule #5: 30 MInute Sittings
She used to masticate [i.e. chew] one mouthful for over an hour!
Stupidly, I sat there and would engage in this power struggle with her, sometimes for an entire hour AFTER I had finished my meal and cleared the table! </head : desk/>
I did not realise that that was what it was - a power struggle, a power play.
I thought that by "letting her win" that I would be fostering even more bad behaviour from her in future. I am very conscious about that (as you may have guessed) so I was not willing to be "defeated" by a toddler..
Yes, I was in a "battle" with my child and I was losing that battle.
Why? Because I engaged in it, like it was a battle!
Erk. Horrid hard times.
By switching it around and not engaging in the battle, funnily enough there IS NO battle! After 30 minutes which is plenty of time for me to eat, feed my baby and clear up, if the plate of my daughter is not empty, I clear it regardless. No dessert [see rule above].
This way, she knows the table is for eating and not faffing about. She also knows she can choose how she wants to do things - if she wants to go to bed with a full belly and enjoy dessert (usually just fruit or a healthy treat), she needs to get on with it and concentrate on the task in front of her.
If she goes to bed hungry once or twice, we usually see a turnaround in her behaviour quickly.
The best part? I did not force it.
She chose - which meets her need for power - and does not receive negative attention from me.
When she finishes her meal, she is rewarded for concentrating and completing the tasks (the task being eating her meal) and receives positive attention and validation for that choice.
There You Have It!
I am far from a parenting expert and I learn by sometimes bitter and not-so-fun experience. These are rules it's taken me 4 years to work out and implement successfully. I figured I would share them to help someone else shortcut that process.
For me, as a parent, my view is that I am growing adults, as opposed to raising children. Yes, of course I am raising children - to BECOME adults.
As such, I feel that I am responsible to equip them to succeed out in the world later in life. I felt very much ill-equipped to handle life when I thrust out into it. I want to ensure my children learn my hard-learned lessons at home with a bed of feathers to fall back on, as much as possible.
When I am around other people or other children, I observe the various behaviours of myself, others and my children and determine that if that behaviour was applied in the "real world" what would be the result? If not a positive result, then I decide that we need to look at the behaviour in ourselves - myself and my children - and adjust it somehow.
Same rule I apply to myself - and yes, I taken inventory of myself and my behaviours too. In fact I am damn hard on myself and work very hard to become better!
Manners, respect, honour and courtesy are vital traits to really succeed when out in the world. These traits win and keep friends, charm and impress others and generally make life easier for everyone.
Why would I NOT spend time helping my children to make good choices around these areas? I want them to be liked, appreciated and well received by others - friends, family, employers, peers. Great manners are a good start there.
Its not about caring what other people think and being charming to garner good opinion. Its not about the good opinion of others at all.
Its about being a good person, showing kindness, respect for self and keeping one's standards high. Other people receive the benefit of that however oftentime those with higher self esteem conduct themselves better. Those that conduct themselves well have higher self esteem. Its a bit chicken and the egg and it's a great cycle to start young.
So its not to say that my "rules" are the right answer. As with anything in parenting, there IS no right or wrong, there is just what you can do in the moment.
I do find though that having a few simple "Go To Rules" for things like this make me a better parent. I have my back up plan in place, I have something to go to and refer to, for when I am feeling a bit out of my depth (and yes, that happens... often).
So here is a quick printable for you to download and keep handy. Maybe you could laminate it and place it on the wall near your table to help your children learn the new table rules?
These simple rules certainly do make for a much less stressful meal time for everyone - including Mum.
Lots of love!
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