Q: Mealtimes are a disaster in our house. Our two children, ages seven and nine, will not eat what either my husband or I have prepared. That leads to tension and shouting, sometimes causing my daughter to leave the table in tears. We have tried rewarding the kids when they actually co-operate at the meal table, we have tried preparing different dishes for them and we have tried punishing them for not eating. Nothing is working. If you have a plan for meals that we might consider, please let me know about it.
A: The two most challenging tasks facing young parents are mealtimes and bedtimes.
Your trauma around the dining table is a serious problem. You are not likely to resolve it by making small incremental changes, rewarding, or punishing or trying to bribe the kids with their favourite food.
Whatever you are doing at mealtime needs to be taken apart and rebuilt with a more positive orientation. Talk to your husband and children and let them know how frustrated you are with what is going on in your house.
Things have to change and you need some kind of a plan to follow.
Your first stop en route to better and healthier mealtimes is at your doctor’s office. It is time for each of your children to have complete physicals.
At times, undiagnosed physical ailments interfere with dietary habits of children so it’s a good idea to ensure the kids are not struggling with something other than attitudes and be-haviour. You need assurances that they are fundamentally healthy.
The followup to the doctor’s visit is a family meeting to explain responsibilities. It is your duty as parents to make sure that you have food on the table and your children’s responsibility is to be there at mealtimes.
Be sensitive to the children’s likes and dislikes, but you as parents will pick the menus, not them.
It is their responsibility to eat and appreciate what you have prepared. As frustrating as it is, back off when they pick away at their plates and don’t eat what is in front of them.
The problem is that no one can force another person to eat and when you try to do so, you create unnecessary and irresolvable tensions. They may not be eating but can at least be sitting at the table until you say that the mealtime is over.
If your children have not eaten much, they are going to start begging for snacks. This is when your mettle as a parent is tested.
Swallow your frustration and anger and let your children snack. If you don’t, chances are good that they will sneak food behind your back. It is better if you leave them fruit, finger vegetables and cheese within reach.
Finally, do what you can to make each meal fun. These are times for family intimacy. Tell stories and listen intently as the kids recount adventures of the day.
Kids love to be loved for all the right reasons. The more you can share your admiration for each other, the less likely it is that your dining table will sound like a war zone.
Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: [email protected]