“We’ve been doing the Satter method with great results, but now that we don’t have the “sit down and eat!” barking order in our repertoire (thank goodness), what’s a good way to get children to focus on the meal if they are becoming overly distracted? i have been trying “ok! let’s enjoy our meal!” if they are wandering from the table or getting preoccupied with something else. Is that staying within the right ideas? i’m trying to maintain that the “meal” is the whole of us sitting and sharing and eating as a family, not *just* eating. anything else i could use?”
What a great question, and good for you for going to all the effort of having family meals, and no mistaking, it IS an effort to arrange schedules and get food on the table. After all that work, the least we can do is sit there and enjoy ourselves, right? I am glad that using Ellyn Satter’s philosophy is helping. The Division of Responsibility is an amazing tool for making meals more pleasant and cutting down on the power struggles. But these are the kinds of questions that can pop up, the nuance…
So, my thoughts on your question? Of course, it depends…
Often kids are antsy or misbehave at the table because they are feeling pressured there. Kids don’t like being at the table if they have to get through tasks, if they have to eat arbitrary amounts, or earn dessert… They don’t enjoy the battles either. But, it doesn’t sound like that’s happening here.
So then, I start thinking about other possibilities. Are the kids full? Is snack too close to dinner, are they grazing and distracted simply because they are not hungry? How old are they? Do you have developmentally reasonable expectations? A two or three year old won’t be able to sit and be companionable for thirty minutes, maybe only five or ten minutes. Is someone watching TV in another room and the kids want to watch to? Are you still talking too much about nutrition or talking too much to the adults and not paying attention to the kids? (This is tough, and gets easier as kids get older and can participate more.) For example, if I get into something “grown up” with my husband, M will try to get the focus back on her, though this is getting better. Are they hopping up if you’re not including them, in other words? You don’t have to only talk to or focus on the kids, but having them participate is important. Consider going around and sharing your “best thing” from the day. Who did they sit with at lunch? Did something surprise them that day? There are even dinner conversation starter kids you can buy, or ask the kids to make some questions you can pull from an envelope… Are you a stickler for manners? Are you harping on them to use knife and fork or struggling over other issues? (Remember, kids use a combination of utensils and hands to eat into the grade school years…)
So step back, take a few minutes to analyze the situation and see what you think it going on. It’s OK with younger kids to let them leave the table and entertain themselves quietly while you finish dinner.
Some nights with M she is participating and into the discussion, or the food and she keeps us company. Other times she might not be as hungry and after ten minutes or so asks to leave the table. We remind her that her dinner is done when she leaves, she carries her plate to the sink and then she’s off to play Nintendo or color while Dad and I get to enjoy our meals.
Does that help? Moms and Dads out there, how have you dealt with this issue?