How to Encourage your Child to Engage at the Table


With Christmas and Hanukah approaching, many of you have cracked open old family recipe books and are searching online for  flavors and dishes to enhance the season. After you stock up on napkins, give floorboards an extra sweep and mentally prepare for meal marathons, might we suggest a few helpful hints for your list?

While this upcoming season can be stressful for us, it can be more so for children. We often hear our littlest guests at the tea room say their parents are rushed and too busy this time of year. Set time aside to SLOW down.  Spend the next few weeks easing into the big show by practicing a few of my favorite tips:

  • Look into your children’s eyes – Put away distractions.  Jump into whatever they are doing so they know you see their activity is important. It teaches respect.
  • Shake it out – Burn off energy before sitting down to eat. Excuse your child and self from the table to take a walk outdoors. If you plan to be at the table more than 30 minutes a walk can take the edge off.  Be bold and find a place to let them run and race if they are super antsy.  It demonstrates patience.
  • Practice makes it pleasant – Sitting to the table together may be your routine but find a new way to connect in addition.  Highlight something new during mealtime – practice conversation skills, telling jokes, stories, discussing art, flowers, or a mystery food. Get in the habit of sitting down together and staying seated a bit longer each night. Mrs. B’s tip: tape a treat under their seat or plate as a surprise reward so they can enjoy it when finished. This keeps and element of surprise and shows how to have fun.
  • Rabbit hole games – Get conversation started by pulling written questions from a cup or making up stories together. Encourage engagement by avoiding one word responses. “If your teacher does not arrive and you had to teach, what would you do?”  This develops imagination.
  • Set the table – Now that you are at the table, set it!  Give your children creative license to decorate. Practice how to use a fork and knife properly.  No one is too young to learn and the more you practice, the quicker you perfect this crucial habit. It demonstrates organization.
  • Express yourself  – At the table, on the couch, on a walk or in your kitchen, express yourself. Be joyful by smiling, taking time.  Good posture, facial expression and tone of voice are all important.  They tell others how we feel. While holidays are sometimes exhausting, be mindful of how you present yourself. Dress nicely every day. Demonstrate how a bad guest looks (elbows on the table, frowning face and rolling eyes, sloppy presentation) versus a demonstration of how a good guest looks.  This teaches children to appreciate having a dramatic rolemodel.

We wish you and your families a wonderful Christmas season.  Please share your personal tips for getting children through big meals in the comments section.

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