Parental anxiety of the week – the dinner table

by DaniGirl on November 22, 2005 · 17 comments

in Uncategorized

I think it’s safe to say we’ve conquered the potty. It’s been a few months since he’s had a daytime accident, and even a few weeks since he’s had a nighttime accident (but he’s still in pull-ups overnight, just in case.)

Rather than rest on our laurels, we’ve moved on to conquer the next parenting hurdle, which I see as even more insurmountable: how to get Tristan to sit still at the dinner table.

Does anyone else have this problem? It seems to be getting worse instead of better. For a while, I was worried about hyperactivity and ADHD and all the other nasty things they accuse rambunctious young boys of having, but he’s more than capable of sitting for 30 minutes or more to do a puzzle or read a book or play with his trains. Or, ahem, watch TV.

The dinner table, however, is another matter entirely. I’ve even given up on worrying about what he eats. I’ll put out a little bit of whatever the rest of us are eating for him, but also some peanut butter on pitas or apple slices or whatever else I know he will eat so at least he’s getting something nutritious. I’m pretty sure his palate will expand over time if we don’t nag him about it.

But no matter whether he likes what we’re having or not, he will not sit for more than five minutes at the table. He gets on his chair, wiggles off it, tips it sideways. He reaches out and leans on the highchair and pesters his brother, and he tries to dangle off of Beloved’s arm or crawl into his lap. (He’s 38 lbs – that’s a lot of preschooler to have dangling off your forking arm!)

It has denigrated to the point where he just stands at the table, crams a few bites into his mouth, dances away, comes back, pesters someone, eats another bite, rattles his silverware, wiggles on and off the chair… you can see how it would become a little tiresome.

I’m trying to decide if I want to wage this war. I’ve tried the usual array of persuasive techniques, from pleading to cajoling to moral imperative to outright threat. Beloved has threatened to use his belt to tie Tristan to his chair, which I have some reservations about. (Don’t call child protective services just yet.) None of it seems to be incredibly effective and I’m frankly tired of arguing my way through dinner every. single. night.

My ongoing fear is the same one that underlies all my parenting anxiety – if I don’t “fix” it now, are we stuck with this behaviour forever? Or should I chill, call this a phase, and hope it’s a short one.

Any suggestions? I’m thinking Velcro pants and seat cushions…

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dean Dad November 22, 2005 at 1:43 pm

Have you installed a hidden camera in my house? This is EXACTLY what The Boy does. Some nights it gets so bad that I actually banish him to his room, just so I can eat without having him either on my lap or crashing headlong into me.
PLEASE tell me it’s a phase. Either that, or we start putting his dinner outside.

2 grandmaman November 22, 2005 at 1:50 pm

Have you watched Supernanny?…or should I say Suppernanny.

3 Bren November 22, 2005 at 2:04 pm

Hmmmm. No advice but Thomas just started this recently (27 months). He used to be so good at the table. He hasn’t been in a highchair for over a year but recently I got out his old booster seat and belt him in it for dinner.
Thanks Dani–you always give me insight into what’s down the road for the boyz. Now I figure that all boys do it so it must just be a normal phase. Hope they get over it by university 😉

4 mamaloo November 22, 2005 at 2:23 pm

We have a booster seat at the table for our 2.5yo and I have rubber stoppers on his chair legs so that he can’t push the chair back himself. This stops him from getting out of his chair at the table. If he somehow starts to slither out, he must wear the little safety belt. If we are out in public and he will not sit in his chair, he must sit in a “baby chair”.
So, we’ve taken much of his self control options away for this particular thing.
My problem is that he’ll refuse to eat most of his food, but after a fight, he suddenly eats it all up, loving every minute of it. If only he’d jsut take a couple of bites to start with, life at our dinner table would be easier.

5 Marla November 22, 2005 at 2:51 pm

I wouldn’t be one to talk. Josephine is good for about ten minutes in her high chair, then five on one of the regular chairs (“oooh, like such a big girl”), and then she’s out of the chair and finishes her meal by crawling on the floor, saying she’s “arwfy” and asking for pats on the head. We give her food treats and tell her what a good dog she is, and figure out that if that’s the way to get a good meal into her, we’re fine with that. Besides, we really miss the dog a lot.

6 yvonne November 22, 2005 at 3:16 pm

Even at 7, my eldest tips his chair sideways and wiggles in his seat. My closest comparison, the 4 (and three quarters) year old, routinely falls off the chair at supper time. Both my SILs have strict eating supper rules: no toys, sit still, eat everything on your plate. I am just too tired to fight about it by the end of the day.
We do establish rules though – if you get down from your chair it means you are done. If you did not finish what you had for supper (I give very small portions) then you can only choose healthy snacks during the evening: carrots, peppers, celery and broccoli are the only choices.
It was very hard for the first couple of evenings but the kids know the rule now. When you get down from the table, take your plate to the counter and you are done. Otherwise, your plate will be removed for you.
Dinner time is the witching hour for kids. They are spun at wanting to tell you all about their day, waiting for the next fun thing coming and hungry/tired. You have to match your expectations to what they are capable of meeting. Some kids by that point in the day are just not capable of sitting still. My big concern is them hurting themselves as they collapse the chair they are rocking back and forth on. Suppose it will not be a life-threatening injury though…

7 Nancy November 22, 2005 at 3:24 pm

My big problem is that my oldest does not want to *eat*. She’ll do anything to delay, such as say she has to go to the bathroom, talk a mile a minute, etc. She does not get out of her chair, but last night she sat at the table for over an hour trying to eat a PB&J sandwich. She’s lightweight so we’re trying to keep her food intake up.
Ugh, sorry, this is not helpful, just had to vent. But it sounds as if Tristan is eating, in between the jumping around and such. It might be one of those things that you have to bite the bullet on for now, and it will work itself out in time…

8 Phantom Scribbler November 22, 2005 at 4:17 pm

We have this problem with LG on occasion. He dances, prances, plays the drums with his fork. I wish I had some great solution. I just have sympathy. I hope they grow out of it…

9 Danigirl November 22, 2005 at 5:05 pm

**deep sigh of gratitude**
Why does the fact that we are not alone in going through this make me feel SO MUCH better? Why does it make it seem so much easier? It does, it really, really does!
Dean Dad – putting his dinner outside? Works for me, thanks for the tip!
Grandmaman – welcome!! I’m so honoured you’re reading! (scans back to previous content, cringes in embarrassment)
Marla, stop. You’re killing me, really. The bittersweet eloquence – my heart can’t take it.
Others – thank you! You make my day, really!

10 jo(e) November 22, 2005 at 7:11 pm

My kids were all like this. I always thought of it as normal behavoir. I let them leave the table and come back if they wanted. Maybe it’s because I have four kids, but I never thought it a battle worth fighting. I would just pay attention to whoever remained at the table — sometimes this even gave me a chance to pay attention to my husband. Eventually, my kids all outgrew it. Perhaps it’s because they are teenagers and eat a whole lot more.

11 nancy November 22, 2005 at 8:58 pm

We have yet to deal with this, so am saving this post and comments for when it does. I guess we are lucky, my guys actually don’t do this at all. We would never allow it though anyway. We also have a no toy policy at the table for any meal or snacks. We do have a lot of the “3 more bites” if you want dessert, and well, that works too.
My niece spent a year when she was 2-3 eating on her Daddy’s lap. Drove him nuts, but it did pass. Tristan will soon too, and then Simon will start. Oops!!! (heh heh evil laugh).

12 ella November 22, 2005 at 8:59 pm

I’m with Yvonne, if they get down, supper is over and there is no other food except, in our house, rice cakes (I know, I’m so mean). [I do sometimes let them watch television though at supper time so not only am I horribly strict but I am horribly permissive, so what do I know.]

13 BeachMama November 23, 2005 at 12:53 am

We are pretty good here. We don’t allow toys at the table when eating and when we are “all done” then we wipe up and don’t come back. We have experienced a few episodes when Dad has come home, but I am pretty sure that it is just a show as the rest of the time he sits like a charm.
Best of luck, I’ll be sure to call if things change here.

14 SheilaC November 23, 2005 at 4:16 am

When our kids (triplets) were about three I instituted simple rules about manners at the table. “Good manners means 1) sitting nicely 2) talking in a nice quiet voice 3) eating carefully – try not to make a mess.” We would remind of the rules, but tried to avoid saying “no” and “stop” constantly. It seemed to help.
If somebody was not able to remain seated properly at the table, then we’d ask if they were all done. Usually the reminder was enough to get them to sit down and focus on their food. But if they really were bored and disruptive, and had no more appetite, it seemed better to let them leave the table. (They had to go play quietly in another room, not hang around and disrupt the rest of the family’s meal.)
By the age of 3, kids will not starve if they don’t finish a meal. It’s normal for appetites to vary from meal to meal, and from day to day. But don’t give a huge snack an hour later! Make them wait until the next mealtime. They will quickly learn what your expectations are if you are consistent.
I like your blog – found it recently via Ann Douglas’ blog. I think I’ve seen you on LibraryThing too.
Best wishes,
from a SK mom of 5 year old triplets,

15 SilverCreek Mom November 23, 2005 at 1:49 pm

Nathan is all over the place some times. And has been bad for a few years. BUT I now have a new rule that he has to sit and talk with us till we are done unless we have kiddy company and they can go play when they are done so the parents can chat.
I have to turn off the t.v and all other things and NO toys. I find he now eats better if I do this. BUT I only do it at supper. Lunch he is not a big eater so I don’t worry.
He’s Normal Dani. He will get better.

16 Danigirl November 23, 2005 at 2:56 pm

All of your comments are helpful – thank you again for taking the time.
The range of responses is interesting, from nancy’s “we would never allow this” (ha! I say. My whole point is that I don’t know how to prevent it.) to jo(e)’s “I let them leave the table and come back if they wanted.” I guess normal encompasses a pretty big range, eh? (If you want to read something really great, go to jo(e) blog and read about ‘monster’ and how she got that dent in her wall. I *hope* I am that cool of a parent some day!!)
Sheila, welcome! Are you tripleblessings? (How many mothers of 5 yo triplets can there be is SK??) I noticed our similar libraries just the other night. You have great taste in books!
Thanks again, all. Dinner was a lot more relaxed last night for no other reason than I wasn’t as uptight about things. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, methinks…

17 Kristen November 23, 2005 at 5:24 pm

My mother bought us chairs that are made for kids – they have foot-rests built in. I think she got them from One Step Ahead or one of those places.
For some reason, the foot rests help.
But mostly , we say, “You can either eat with the family or go play quietly in your room.” and then quickly add….”All those who eat with the family can enjoy the cookie-dough ice cream for dessert.”
Dessert seems to be a big motivator at our house!
I don’t stress out too much if one of the kids is restless for family dinner. But we do try to separate the “play” area/time from the “eat” area/time….when possible.

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