Mum and Dad, you know those boundaries and limits you set for me? I see it as my job to test defy or push against you before accepting them. I also see it as your job to hold those boundaries gently yet firmly in place.
It’s really confusing when we have one set of rules for doing something at home and a different set of rules for doing the same thing outside of home.
I can’t hold two conflicting set of rules for the same activity in my mind, and as you know when I am confused or put out I will ACT OUT. Table manner rules are the perfect example! At home, some of my toddler friends are allowed to get up and down from the table, carry their meal around, even eat in front of the TV (though this really isn’t a good idea for our age). Some of them can leave the table the minute they’re finished and go back to playing, instead of staying seated. But then, they go to restaurant as a treat and it’s totally different! Now they have to sit up at the table and can’t get up and down as they please. They can’t walk or run around, or show off their big loud voices by shouting. And they certainly can’t go watch tv.
What’s the deal with that? None of us can understand why this is different, but it feels unfair. That’s confusing, which makes us anxious and upset. Because we cannot yet express those feelings with words we have to show you the only way we can, which is to cry or shout or have a tantrum. And yes, it’s not pleasant for any of us.
Please keep it simple, so that we know exactly what is expected of us no matter where we are eating.
Here’s my big idea. Let’s have one set of simple, consistent, and easy-to-remember rules about eating behaviour that apply whether we’re eating at home or eating out.
Toddler Table Rules!
- We sit. We all sit together around the table at mealtimes.
- We stay that way. We stay seated around the table until the last person has finished eating and the adult in charge says it’s time to leave the table.
- I have to wait. Even if I am finished eating, or choose not to eat my food, I must stay seated at the table while others eat.
- Chatting is in. We talk to each other about the day and share our news at mealtimes.
- Screens are out. No-one at the table uses a screen at mealtimes.
If you tell me the rules in positive statements it emphasises what you do want me to do instead of what you don’t want me to do.
Will we write our mealtime rules out on a piece of paper and put it on the fridge? That way, there are always there for me to look at. Some day I’ll even be able to read them for myself! Why don’t we get an inkpad – like one for a date stamp – and the whole family can add their finger print to show that we all sign up to the rules. If we struggle to stay focused in the future, we can just refer back to our list.
Mealtimes should be a social experience for me, and I want to be a part of it. A nice tradition to start would be if we take turns to share our best bit of our day and the bit we would wish to change. This encourages open communication in the family, and shows me that even though we all have highs and lows in our days, we can problem-solve the bits we would like to change. It helps me when family mealtimes are a positive and social experience without any heightened emotional charge.
Toddler Top Tip…
“Keep the table rules the same at home as out of home. Be clear and and positive: tell me what you want me to do, not what you don’t want me to do.”