Eating. Nobody’s ever had any social or emotional issues around this one, right?
Eating can be one of life’s great pleasures. But it can also become a battlefield, especially with very young children. We have a lot of rules around eating - particularly when we eat together - and sometimes young children don’t entirely understand those rules… sometimes they know them, but don’t want to follow them… and sometimes they simply don’t know how to express what they’re feeling around food and the eating process.
Your primary job around eating and your young child is, of course, to make sure they do it - it’ll keep ‘em alive! And one of the best strategies for achieving this goal is to make sure your dinner table does not become a battlefield. So here are a few strategies that you can use to demilitarize the dining room… and help to develop your child’s social and emotional skills.
1. A young child will not stay put at the table, instead preferring to wander around with their food thereby creating innumerable ungodly messes. You can…
- Redirect the child back to the table - but don’t reprimand, be supportive so the table will still be a place where the child wants to be.
- Along those lines, you can make the table a more visually appealing place - use bright colors, decorations, make it special and fun.
- Put on the child’s favorite music… at the table.
- Or use music as the “then” in a first-then cue with your child… “first sit down and eat… and then we’ll play your music.”
2. A child is super-fussy about food, only wanting to eat very specific favorites. While it may be tempting to say “open up your mouth and fill it up now, my little friend!” - instead you can…
- Make sure that meal times are pleasant - don’t rush or pressure the child.
- Encourage the child to explore the new food, including touching and smelling it.
- Pair the new food with a food that you know is a favorite. At first, don’t even necessarily expect the child to eat it… just get them used to the presence of the food.
3. An omnivorous (and tricky) child likes to eat other people’s food at the table (their mouth is ALWAYS open and ready for business!). You can…
- Put boundaries around the child’s eating space - use a placemat or even masking tape, you can even have the child build the boundary.
- If you’re feeding more than one child, start with relatively small portions and encourage the “hungry” child to request more when they want it.
- As a follow up, teach the child some words or a gesture that they can use to request more food. This gives the child a better - and more effective way - to get more food.
Oh and if you’re still hungry, you can learn lots more here.