I always remember dinnertime as something precious and fun. As a parent, I have struggled a lot with dinners. I spent hours researching how could we have a meal in a quiet and peaceful environment. My daughter (3.5 years old) was always interrupting her meal by doing something or going to random places. My son (1.5 years old) was screaming, climbing on the table and using lots of tantrum-like behaviour. Both of them were happily complaining about the food or fighting over silly things. Every night, seven days a week, it was exactly the same. I was wondering how can other families actually do this. How could they sit and have proper quiet dinners without everything falling apart? I was worried that maybe our Montessori-inspired approach has left way too much freedom for our kids to not have specific boundaries. We read a lot, we researched, and we had a few sessions with kids’ specialists.
Here is what I learned, and our dinners are now gold.
Kids are just kids. It’s important to always remember your kids’ ages and specific characteristics and never relate them to other kids. From the moment I stopped expecting my 1.5 year old to stay and wait for all of us to finish our meals before standing and going straight to play, I became happier. Understanding deeply that children of this age can only sit at the dinner table for a maximum of ten minutes (as research shows) felt liberating. Showing empathy to my hyperactive son and deeply understanding that he just can not sit still for more than a couple of minutes changed our communication. After he felt safe that mommy understands and trusts me, he was happier to sit at that table for ten minutes. A week later, he was able to sit for more. Then as the days passed by, he was thrilled to stay and enjoy his meal for much longer.
Comfortable and welcoming kids’ sitting
The kid’s chair selected for mealtimes must make the kids happy to be there and make the process of eating an easy and safe one. Study your child and decide whether you need a high chair that kids won’t climb out of or whether you need a looser style where the child can jump in and out on their own. My son was happy when I brought a chair without straps and easy to access on his own.
Interesting topics to discuss
As working parents who have not seen each other during the day, we started discussing matters of absolutely no interest to our kids. From the moment we all had something to say during dinner, kids inevitably stayed willingly for longer at the table. Sharing our news and listening to what everyone had to say helped us connect and spend happy moments together. Even our 1.5 years old was happy to share with us songs and bubbling stories.
Involve everyone in the preparations
We found a positive effect when getting the kids involved in making the meal or setting the table. Sometimes we ask for their input when meal planning. They feel important, opinionated, and proud. Also, they feel our trust and that we rely on them, building self-esteem and confidence.
Set dinnertime earlier
We were used to having dinner at 20.30. Soon we noticed that our kids were yelling and not cooperating because they were overstimulated and tired from the day that had passed. Setting dinner half an hour earlier made a huge difference.
Patiently teach them a bit of etiquette.
If you expect your kids to act a certain way at the table, teach them to do so with love and patience. Let them watch and learn by observing you. It’s the best way for them to learn what you want them to. Just lower your expectations and have patience.