Friday, April 2, 2010

Meal Times

I haven't been terribly inspired with any particular topics to post about lately, but today, my mom and I talked a little about table manners and teaching children to eat like civilized people at the table. For all my faults as a mother, this is one area, where hubby and I are pretty strict, and our children, I think, have benefitted from it. It is so distracting to try to eat with small children when they are up and down out of their chairs, play with their food, chatter incessantly, or are unnecessarily demanding, and so on.
We enforce some basic rules. We don't allow playing at the table, and we define playing pretty strictly. We have begun instructing our boys to sit at the table with their hands under the table, folded, and having our 21 month old at the table with us has helped our older two, because they have the "job" of teaching him, so they set the example for him.
Next, no getting down from the table without permission or a good reason. This means if you leave your chair for any reason other than going to the bathroom, or have need like a tissue(cause you sneezed), you are dismissed from the meal. It doesn't matter if you have only taken three bites, or if you haven't been served yet. You get down for a superficial reason, and you are done.
My dear husband has also set a great example for my boys about being thankful for the meal. He always thanks me for cooking, tells me it's good(even if I think it could be improved) and the boys follow suit. I have even had my picky eater choking over something he didn't want to eat say,"thank you for this food, mommy."
We also don't allow much for fussiness. I don't cook for my children's tastes. I just cook. They adjust. If I like onions or zucchini, I put them in. The only thing I don't tend to put in is spicy seasoning(the hot kind). We used to make them see an offending food again, but our picky one is so stubborn, he would get down from the table and go three full meals seeing the same thing over and over. By the next morning, he was so sick from not eating he would frequently heave anything he did eat(even if it was something else). So we now make him sit there til it's gone--and he has sat four or five hours taking one bit every twenty minutes. He also doesn't get anything that the rest of us are having(a snack..).
We also insist on booster seats, until they can comfortably reach the table. I think this saves on a lot of messes and spilled drinks. It doesn't matter if they don't want to sit in the booster seat. Until we gauge they can manage in a plain chair, they will. If they refuse, they don't have to eat. Simple as that.
Believe me, it can be very difficult to enforce these rules consistently, and sometimes you feel like an ogre doing so, but eventually, when they see you mean it, they stop pushing the boundaries and begin to toe the line.
We do extend grace to them, in that we don't punish for spilling a drink(as long as they weren't playing), we allow small portions for a dish they don't care for, and let them choose certain things, like ketchup on eggs(yuck!), and butter or gravy on their potatoes. We also try to enforce these rules in a calm manner and tone of voice. They know we mean business, but we try not to get worked up over it.
Overall, I am quite happy with the manners my children display at the family table. They mostly eat everything we put before them, they are polite and considerate, and mostly thankful for what they receive. It's uphill work at times, but soooo worth it!! For more ideas on this topic, Kelly Crawford at had a great article on the importance of table ettiquette in training children(older post--few weeks ago).

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