Recently I read a book about a military family. Time to time the family got invited for meals at the army mess hall. One day another mother commented that her children were so well behaved around the table and that she would not be able to bring her own children to the mess hall because they would tear the place apart – not sitting well and running all over. The other mother encouraged her that it is possible to train her children to sit at the table quietly.
I would echo that guarantee: it is possible to train our children to sit at one place during meal and behave well. But it all starts at home. We cannot expect them to behave outside what we have not taught them at home. If a child is allowed to run around at meal times at home, he will want to do the same thing when he is out. If he is allowed to make fuss at table while eating, he will do the same thing in public.
In our Indian culture we just feed the child until they are quiet. Yes, it is easier in some ways if there are no expectation about how a child should behave during a meal. But if parents know what kind of standard they want to maintain for mealtime, and train the children at home, I promise, it will be worth the time. I taught my children to maintain a certain standard during mealtimes, and I was never embarrassed by them in public. I was never anxious to take them anywhere.
So what is a standard? Different families have different norms. Some families prefer having dinner together, serve food on a serving bowl, using spoons or fork or fingers, no talking while eating and no discussing issues at table etc. In our Indian culture many parents do not require the child to sit at one place – this also is a kind of standard. Some make the child sit in front of the TV while feeding. So parents should decide: do we want to allows a child to sit in front of the TV or to not require sit at one place? I believe that one has to be look to the future in deciding on standard for mealtime. Every decision has a consequence. Even through mealtimes, character traits like self control and obedience are taught.
- Decide on a standard you want to maintain for mealtimes.
- Be consistent. If you keep changing your style of mealtime, they will not know how to behave if they want to please you.
- Have a family mealtime, so that they will have a role model to follow.
- Have a schedule for snaks and mealtimes. Try to maintain this schedule even when you are out of the home. This will help the child know what to expect at certain times and what is expected of him during these times. Again, consistency is key.
- Serve small amounts of food at a time so that it will not be hard for him or her to finish the meal.
- If you want your child to eat, it’s a good idea not to give him food an hour before the mealtime. Also, never give them any sweets before a meal.
- Introduce new foods one at a time.
- Keep sweets for a reward after the child has eaten his or her meal well.
- Don’t give up. If you are just starting regular mealtimes, you will have to be very persistent. Remember, even for adults it takes 15 days to develop a habit.