Eating supper as a family has not always been the most peaceful time of day in our home. You know that “Whack-a-Mole” game? The one where little mole heads keep popping up and you have to try and thump as many of them with a club as you can? That’s kind of what our supper table has been like in the past – minus the head-thumping, of course. As soon as everyone would finally be seated, and Brian and I were attempting to enjoy our meals, a little body would come popping up out of its seat and start running across the house on some crazy mission. This kind of thing is contagious, of course, so before long there would be three little bodies running around, giggling hysterically. Brian and I tried a little bit of everything. We started off with a playful approach, using reverse psychology –
“Don’t eat your supper!”
“You won’t like this, it’s disgusting!”
“Mmmm, I hope ______ doesn’t want his/her food because I want to eat it…”
When we didn’t see results we quickly moved on to more desperate tactics: bribes and threats –
“If you take 3 bites then you can have_______!”
“If you don’t eat your supper then you’ll have to eat it for snack before bed.”
“Nobody gets to play with toys until they eat their supper!”
But this didn’t get us very far either, and left a bad aftertaste that the most delicious meal couldn’t take away.
I even tried following them around the house with their food, abandoning all efforts to keep them seated at the table. I figured my main goal was feeding them, so did it really matter where they were eating?! This led to a slight difference of opinion with my husband, who was feeling more than a little frustrated by how things were going and was starting to wonder if we’d ever be able to take our kids out in public again.
I remember one night in particular. None of the kids had napped, so I knew that they would be especially wiggly at supper. I made spaghetti and meat sauce, one of our favourites, with the hope that full tummies would increase our chances of a good night’s sleep. As we sat down and said grace, things didn’t look good. One of the boys fell off his chair while we were praying, so the giggling started before anyone had even taken a bite. In a moment of desperation/inspiration I said, “Hey, I’m going to tell a story while we’re eating!” Encouraged by the fact that all three of them were sitting still in their chairs and looking at me expectantly, I ignored Brian’s rolling eyes and continued. “One day, three kids named Kolbie, Logan and Rylie went to their Grandma and Grandpa’s house…” Every few sentences I’d stop and say, “Okay, let’s all take a bite!” Completely distracted from their usual disruptive urges, they kept shovelling food in their mouths as I told the riveting tale of how they got to ride their bikes at my parents’ house today. Then, to my utter astonishment, my wiggliest child looked up from his nearly empty bowl and said, “Thank-you-for-the-supper-I-please-leave-the-table?” He sat in his chair, ate his supper, AND remembered his manners. Victory!
I stumbled upon something very valuable that night – while I was telling the story, we were connecting. They kept chiming in and adding little details about our day. We got to laugh together about all the goofy things that happened. We took the focus off whether or not they were eating, and the eating happened. A few years have passed since that night, but we still use stories to help keep us all at the table at suppertime. We don’t need it every night, and I ran out of story ideas a long time ago, but many evenings will still find me with a fork in one hand and a book in the other. And I love it!
Here are a few other things that have worked in our home:
- Letting a child sit on my lap to eat, even if it seems they’re too old.
- Family picnics in front of the fireplace.
- Placemats, fancy dishes and a menu on leftover night.
- Giving appropriate choices, such as choosing their own drinking cup, or letting them eat somewhere else in the house (within reason!).
- Recognizing when a child is overwhelmed and unable to sit through a family meal, and feeding them while they play.
Can you identify with stress at mealtimes? What are some strategies you’ve found successful in your attempts to have a somewhat peaceful family meal?