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Parenting and Mealtime Behaviour

By: Sarah Edwards - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Mealtime Eating Behaviour Food Children

Children who are fussy or problem eaters can cause distress and stress for even the most reasonable parents, and when mealtimes become stressful the whole family can suffer.

As well as children refusing to eat anything that is put in front of them, children who refuse to sit at the table, are disruptive, rude and disrespectful also cause problems and inevitably end up having meal time tantrums on a regular basis.

Family Time

As well as being an essential part of the day, meal times are also sometimes the only opportunity a family may have to sit together and share stories about their days, talk over problems and worries and to relax as a family. Our lives are so busy that it can be rare for entire families to have the chance to be together, and a disruptive child will spoil that opportunity.

House Rules!

Meal times should be special. They should be relaxed, calm and about spending quality time together. Therefore, these times need to be preserved and the best way to try and start to do that is to make some clear rules and defining boundaries.

Not all families sit down together once a day to eat a meal. Busy schedules and hectic lives often mean this is impossible. However, if you do try and stick to a routine you will find that any children who are disruptive at meal times will really benefit from having some structure put in place. Here are a few ideas that could make meal times a pleasure, rather than a chore:

  • Try and stick to eating at the same time each evening
  • Get the whole family involved in planning, preparing and cooking the food as well as laying the table, serving the meal and clearing up afterwards
  • Be patient with a child who refuses to eat, but do not force them to. Instead simply insist that they sit at the table with everyone else until the meal is over.
  • Some children have a fear of eating because they think they will choke and will not be able to swallow their food. If you think that your child has a serious problem relating to food and eating, seek professional help and advice from your GP, health visitor or other healthcare/nutritional specialists.
  • Trying to encourage a child to sit and eat and take part in a family meal when they really don’t want to can be very stressful. Try persuading them by suggesting that they can choose an extra book for their bedtime story, or a play in the park after school tomorrow. Make sure that whatever you offer is achievable though, and don’t get desperate and go overboard.
  • Ultimately remember that you are the parent and you are in charge-NOT your child! It is very easy to start offering bribes, treats and all manner of special dispensations if your child is ‘good’, but they have to understand that there is a certain level of meal time behaviour that is acceptable, and a certain level that is not.

Don’t Turn It Into A Big Deal

The last thing you want to do is turn your family meal times into a battleground. Not only is this stressful and time consuming, it also sends out potentially damaging signals for the future as well.

Try to avoid big debates, arguments, rows and tantrums because it will only make matters worse. As your child grows up they will understand and accept that there are certain standards that have to be adhered to, but it is important that meal times do not become a fraught and stressful event.

Work hard to stay calm, deal with issues and problems as they arise and try not to let things build up and get out of hand. Evening meals are tricky because often everyone is tired and the last thing any working parent wants to do is to deal with stroppy, difficult children who refuse to eat the meal that someone has just spent precious time preparing.

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