How to Encourage Kids not to Dawdle at Meals

Last month, I shared how to help your kids stay sitting at the table long enough to eat. If that’s something you’re struggling with, check out the post here. But sometimes parents have the opposite problem. Their child takes forever to eat. They draw out their meals. Every time you go to take your child’s plate away, thinking that they must be done by now, they take another bite or two. Parents tell me that they feel torn between letting their child get enough to eat and actually moving along with the day. If this sounds like you, here’s a strategy to help your child eat enough during a reasonable mealtime.

Step #1: Check Your Expectations.

For us adults, the mechanisms of eating are easy. We move the muscles in our mouths and throats to eat and swallow without even thinking of it. And, we have the dexterity to use utensils with ease. Toddlers still are learning the mouth control for eating. So it can take longer to chew and swallow safely. That’s exactly why we have the recommendations of not giving choking hazards to kids under 3 years old.Preschoolers and school-age kids have mastered chewing and swallowing. But they are still mastering utensils. Expect them to take longer to eat when a meal involves utensils.

Step #2: Use a Visual Clock.

Have you taken into account the extra time for mouth coordination and utensil use and determined that you have an honest to goodness dawdler?

Here’s a technique that I’ve used with lots of kids to help them learn to manage their mealtime:

Kids this age do well with visual cues. This technique stops you from nagging that it’s time to finish up (and it prevents kids from learning to tune you out). You simply set a timing clock, let kids see it counting down, and kids learn to manage their time within it. Older kids can follow a simple timer countdown on a cell phone or tablet set up on the table. Younger kids need a visual that doesn’t involve numbers.

There are a number of apps and devices available to create a visual representation of a clock. To look for apps simply search for “visual timer” in your device’s app store (iTunes, Google Play). To find a visual timing devise, do a Google search for “visual timer”. To use the visual clock, introduce the new rule to your child. Expect them to get it wrong a few times as they experience the learning curve. During this transition, don’t let them continue eating because you’ll reinforce the very behaviour you’re looking to change. Because your child will likely be a bit hungry, do plan an extra big snack and, if you can, move snack time up a bit.

Kids are smart. They learn how to regulate their meal time within a few days.

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Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD helps moms and dads support your picky kids to get good nutrition today…and instill a life-long love of healthy eating.

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