Everybody gets ants-in-the-pants syndrome, but children seem to have it 24/7. Getting them to sit still for a family meal is a struggle almost every parent goes through, and all the bribes in the book have been used: sit down or you won't get dessert, no TV after dinner, no toys for the rest of the night, etc. But for younger children, they are in and out of their chairs for a number of reasons.
Dinnertime is often the only time a family has to really converse and be together. Because of busy schedules, dinnertime should be cherished as the one time to concentrate on each other. It's the time to tell jokes, talk about upcoming vacations, discuss the food, or discuss anything that widens the scope of your day to include everyone else's days too. TIME Magazine says that kids who eat together with their parents have lower rates of obesity and less chance of developing drug problems, as well as higher SAT scores.
Check out some of these tried-and-true ways to get your entire family to the table.
Set strict rules about meal times. Start implementing these rules when your children are young and continue enforcing them throughout their teenage years. Meal time is family time. Bring only yourself to the table, and be on time! Your rules may vary, but could include no TV during dinner, no toys or books, basically nothing distracting. Start your kids chattering by going around and saying the best (craziest, weirdest, most exciting) thing that happened to them today.
Have your kids help you cook or set the table. This will give them a sense of autonomy and they'll be proud of their work. Tasks for your little one could include: putting chopped veggies into piles, sprinkling sugar, sifting flour, etc. Having a hand in creating what is made for dinner will excite them into actually eating the food. If you have multiple kids, it will be a team building exercise every night. The appreciation they'll receive after the meal will further grant them a sense of accomplishment. Excite your children into becoming small chefs in the kitchen!
Avoid excessive snacking. It is easier to pacify children by giving them a bag of Cheerios or a few crackers. In the short term, this seems like a good solution to feeding your children when life gets too stressful or cluttered. But in the long term it will be more difficult to establish healthy eating habits. When kids snack endlessly, they get the message that meal time is anytime and that sitting for a meal together is quite unnecessary.
Use fun shapes. You can make mini versions of just about anything, but cutting meats and vegetables into the shapes of stars, hearts and dinosaurs make the food that much more appealing. Your kids might not be able to bring their toys to the dinner table, but who says parts of dinner can't be toys?
Serve food by passing the bowls around the table. Letting your children serve themselves will give them that same feeling of autonomy in that they are choosing what, and how much, goes in their mouths. You might employ the rule that they have to try one bite of everything on their plate, but only one! Dessert is eligible if they adhere to that rule.
Keep the meal short. Especially if your kids are young, sitting for a half hour will be right behind school torture. Don't insist that your children sit down until the meal is completely ready to cut back on chair time. Some moms even suggest setting a timer to make the meal feel more like a game with a prize at the end!
Do you have any methods to keep your family together for meal times? Comment below!