Mealtime Chaos!!

Updated on June 15, 2009
J.M. asks from Allentown, PA
13 answers

I can honestly say that I dread mealtime!! And it's not because of the planning or prep involved it's my childrens' behavior. My youngest refuses to be confined to a seat or even booster- he wants to be like us & his big brother. We let that slide since at a point he was at least sitting until he was done. Now between the both of them (4 & 19 months) no one can sit still, food gets thrown or cups get spilled, etc. They "feed" off one anothers negative behavior & it's just horrible!!
I've tried to ignore the negative behavior,a timer, bribery w/ dessert,time outs, tv after dinner....nothing works! Well one thing would be to feed them seperate, but I don't want to go that route. I really think family meals are important & I want us all sitting together...what do I do?? I need help & #3 will be here soon!
Thanks for any advice!!

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So What Happened?

Just adding some information:
-My husband was away, out of state, for 8 long months.
-This behavior only occurs when it is both of us home for mealtime.
-I never ever smack or physically harm my children.
-Ignoring behavior is ok when no one is getting hurt. Sometimes children are looking for any kind of reinforcement, even negative, so I refuse to acknowledge bad behavior if it is minimal. At this point the behavior is unacceptable which is why I am looking for alternatives.
-I do appreciate all the advice, but judgement is not necessary.

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answers from Erie on

Put less liquid in their drink cups to minimize spills. If they don't eat nicely, tell them they will have to leave the table and go to their room. If they do it again, physically pick them up and carry them to their rooms. They can stay there until they decide they want to behave enough to come to the table. You don't have to put up with that rediculousness. You don't have to tell them more than twice at a mealtime. Take action, and stop the behavior, by eliminating the opportunity. They have learned that it's fun to rattle mom. What they now need to learn is that they get left out when they misbehave.

Oh, yeah, when they ask to come back to the table. Ask them if they can behave appropriately. If they say yes, they can come back. If they step out of line -- off they go again. It won't take long, believe me. Esp if they are hungry.

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answers from Erie on

Do you have an control over when dinner is served?? As a mom, I know my kids are ready to eat at 5 pm, that is the natural time that they are hungry and ready, past that time and they turn into monsters no matter what healthy snacks they have had.
I know there was a time when my husband was consistently late for dinner and in order for us to be a family we had to move it to 6:15. that was just too close to bedtime and they were D-O-N-E and couldn't behave. It wasn't worth it and daddy ended up having to eat alone when he finally got home, because i was sick of it. Things were much much better.

My other suggestion is to see if the older one wants to be your "helper" in the kitchen, you might have to start a lot earlier to get it done in time but you cna teach them soooo much by cooking together, plus they might be sooo proud that they sit still and eat it.
good luck!



answers from Harrisburg on

Never ignore poor behavior. It should always be addressed or the child learns nothing. Children at such a young age are not mature enough to learn lessons on their own. They need guidance. Bribery can work sometimes, as we've all done it, but be careful not to let the child start to manipulate you by using the bribery to their advantage and becoming the one in control. You are the one in charge, you are the one in control. Your children are not behaving at the table. You refuse to tolerate it anymore. Announce new rules. The 19 month old may not get it yet right away, but the 4 year old will. The 19 month old will follow behind what the 4 year old does, as you've already seen.

Rule #1 - No one is to get up from their seat during their meal time.
Discipline - You get up, you're done eating (even if one bite was eaten). Put dishes in the sink and go sit down quietly, or go to your room if you throw a fit. (baby goes to crib for safe quiet time) Mom and Dad finishes their meal alone. (Bonus!)

Rule #2 - No one throws food.
Discipline - Any messes made is cleaned up by the child, with supervision. Thrown food means they're done eating, put dishes in sink, go sit down or go to their room.

Rule #3 - No screaming or outrageous behavior.
Discipline - This means their done eating, put dishes in sink, go sit down or go to their room.

Get the pattern? Poor behavior gets swift discipline. One warning by letting them know the consequence if fine, then swift discipline. If they know you mean business, they'll start falling into line. They MUST know this. As of now they feel Mom and Dad are push overs or they'd be following their rules now. This may take a day or two. This may take a week or two. But DO keep at it as it will kick in, especially for the 4 year old. You can't expect the 19 month old to have the same behavior but they need to learn as early as possible as the older they get, the harder it is for them to catch on.

Rewards - When you have a nice meal time, or decent enough cuz children can't be 100% perfect every day (we wish, lol), reward them be announcing that they behaved well at the dinner table, give them a nice applaud and make a big deal out of their good behavior because children do love to please at this age, then give them a little treat for dessert. Poor behavior doesn't rate dessert. With that said, don't offer the dessert ahead of time as bribery. The dessert/reward should only be mentioned after the meal as it is earned. Also, remember not to group the children together. Treat each child and their behavior individually, as the 4 year old may catch on before the toddler and one shouldn't be disciplined or rewarded for the other's behavior. Remember, give huge applauds for good behavior as much as you give discipline for poor behavior.

Good luck!

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets
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answers from Harrisburg on

Hmmmm....the 19 month old is pretty young...but you've got to start somewhere. The 4 year old should definitely be capable of better mealtime behavior.

When our kids were younger (but not as young as yours) we did the following...

At the top of their plates, we set out 3 extra spoons for each of them. We let them know in no uncertain terms what our family mealtime rules were (no one eats until the lady of the house (mom at home...hostess anywhere else) takes a bite, no leaving the table without being interrupting the conversation (i.e. wait your turn to speak), etc.) For each rule violation, they lost a spoon. No fuss...either my husband or I would just reach over and take a spoon. When all the spoons are gone...there's no dessert for that child for the night. If dessert isn't a motivator, I would find something else that is...sometimes we make them go to bed 15 minutes early if they're not behaving and just the threat of that is enough to make them straighten up...and if they don' get an extra 15 minutes of peace.

The spilling is going to happen...they're young. For a long time, we just served our kids in cups with lids and a straw. I wouldn't make a big deal of the accidents, but I wouldn't tolerate throwing food. If my kids threw food, I would conclude that they weren't hungry and would end the meal for them immediately. They would have to wait for the next meal for food.

Our kids are now 9 and 12 and we get compliments quite often on their table manners whether we're in a restaurant or if they've been at friends' houses. Our mealtimes are chaotic and fun...and they should's the time we as families re-connect with each other. Our 12 year old has ADHD and we think is like Robin Williams must have been like as a child...hysterically funny at times....SO...we don't take the fun out of mealtimes...our kids' friends love to have meals with us so we must be doing something right. The kids just have to know what the limits are and what behavior is appropriate.

Good luck.



answers from Harrisburg on

My kids loved to getting up during mealtime too. I started tying them to the chair, whether they want to be or not. Now, for the most part, just the threat of tying them to the chair, gets them to stay put. I also demand that they do not get up from the table unless they ask properly and wait to be given permission. These few small things make mealtimes enjoyable for me.

I know your children don't want to behave. To a certain extent that is normal. You have to be firm and consistent. You have to demand on proper table manners. If you kids don't follow the manners that you expect from them, then there must be severe punishment. The punishment must be severe enough that you children will want to behave out of fear of the punishment.

For example, when my oldest daughter, age 9, gets out of the chair, she would lose money from her allowance and her current favorite toy. For my son, age 4, I would take away his toy buses. For my youngest daughter, age 2, she is still buckled in a booster seat.

Hope all the best for you. Good Luck.



answers from Philadelphia on

Now is the time to stop this behavior! It is time for the big guns. You need to determine the punishment and follow thru with it. Sometimes you ignore it, sometimes you bride them, you have not been consistent. Most kids are not starving and can miss a meal ro two. I suggest 1st infraction is a time out then back to the table. 2nd a trip to their room for the rest of the night and no more dinner. I might pack up their dinner in a small container and bring them down after everyone is done and all is cleaned up and have then sit at the table for 15 minutes to eat and then send them back up to their rooms. Bring them down one by one if both of them are being punished. If you wavier they won't respect your word and their bad behavior will continue. This goes for everything. Never threaten any punishment unless you plan on following thru. And always do it after the warning. If you threaten and threaten and don't follow thru that is when you get in trouble.



answers from Allentown on

how could something sooo good end up sooo bad .?
good for you jessica.....
do not give up .
1= turn off all cell, wii, tv,remove toys ,bears, dino, etc
2=teach child. to set table [ any way is fantastic at this point]
3=no liquids [ they will eat more too][ give later]
4=everyone SIT or remove them or all.
6=pass food to the right, say please , thank you
7= allow for ' yuk' days and/ or foods [ let it slide]
8= child mimmick parents [ do it every day .the same ] I PROMISE
9= ask permission to leave table , you DISMISS CHILD
10= family cleanup,clean hands , floor etc ....[ wet ones instead of napkins for now]
11= YOU DECIDE WHEN WII, CELL,toys, ETc. goes back on
good for you.
It is HARD to raise proper children in a 'tempting ' world ...
shut down 'their world'.....
they will co-operate .... KIDS ARE HUNGRY for food and knowledge .
then when they act 'right'- promise a treat to friendlys [ or a cool place]to show off ettiquette[sp]



answers from York on

Jessica M

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answers from Pittsburgh on

My boys seem to work best when they know what is expected of them ahead of time. I would come up with a game plan with your husband first to make sure you are in total agreement on this issue. Decide how you want your dinners to go and then set a plan. Before the next meal, and I mean RIGHT before (otherwise they'll forget) tell them the new rules and concequences of dinner time. I would start on the strict side and have a tough day or two...they'll learn quickly. You come up with your own rules, but mine would include: sitting still at the table until they ask to be excused, use utensils, talk in a respectful manner with no shouting etc... If they misbehave they are not allowed to sit at the table. When you can't follow the table rules, you are not allowed to sit there. Remove the child and they can sit for 2-4 minutes alone and then if they are willing to follow the rules, they can come back. I would only let them do this ONCE. Second offense is the end of their dinner time. They will not starve without dinner for a night. And they will remember what happened at the next meal.

I would also not give any snacks after 3:30 so they are hungry for supper. Give them SMALL portions. It is much easier to have them ask for more than trying to barter to get them to eat. Also, on your first day of "new dinner" you should try to make a special dessert that sits visible on the counter for anyone who finishes his meal and does so nicely.

The trick to this is consistency. You've got to mean what you say and stick to it, no matter how hard. A few difficult meals will end up in many more peaceful meals after.


answers from Allentown on

Hi Jessica,

Here is a system.

Get a poster board and crayons.
Let the children help to create the rules.

At the top of the Poster Board is written: Mealtime Rules

Ask them what are some good rules for eating at the table.

Write them down. Let them help the best that they can.

Ask them what would be some consequences when the rules are

Write them down. Now enforce them.

Good luck. D.



answers from Pittsburgh on

My plan is to get a job from 4-8 ever day! LOL
I know what you mean. It's enough to drive you crazy and I only have O. kid! And he's 6!
It's probably a matter of personal style & preference but I had to get to a place where I refuse to let his lack of interest and focus ruin meals for me and my husband. It's also really frustrating because my son eats everything under the sun, he just doesn't like to take the time to sit and eat. It's like you go through all of this trouble to prepare/cook a nice meal and then UGH! Now if he says he's done/full/whatever...I ask it he is full and if so, he can go. It's O. battle I prefer not to fight. Too stressful. My husband is an "e all sit at the table and eat together" kind of guy. But I know the world is not gonna end & my son's not gonna become an axe murderer if he sits in the family room watching Spongebob once a week while he eats his meal.
O. thing you might want to do, if for no other reason than it will be easier when your baby gets here, is to try to get your little O. back in a high chair or at least a booster seat for now. Maybe put them between you & your husband so they're not next to each other? Good luck. "Leave It To Beaver Dinner" it's NOT! LOL



answers from Sharon on

Some of our kids are wigglers and so we allow a little bit of wiggling, accidentally spilled drinks etc. There bottom however must be on the chair until everyone is finished with their meal.

One thing we noticed about our meal times was that really it wasn't all that kid friendly. It was daddy and I letting off steam about our day and pretty much ignoring the kids.

First, don't sit them down till you are ready to put food on the table. Let them help with making menus for what they would like to eat, food prep, table setting. My sisters and I used to try and make our own centerpieces for the table! (Most were tacky and gross but my mum didn't mind). My boys even enjoy doing this. It makes it special.

Since our "boring meal times" we try to have each of the kids tell something about their day that they did, something they accomplished or learnt. They learn to take turns. We also have a good time trying to get the baby to pull his silly faces for us. Dinner time has become all about them and especially about telling daddy all the neat things they did.

We also may ask them questions like, what would you do if this happened? This gives us a chance to reinforce our morals and values without preaching as we help them decide different ways to handle situations. You could also ask questions like, Have you ever been scared, embarrassed etc?

One thing we have done to minimize drink spills is make sure their cups are at the top of the plate never near their elbow. It always gets knocked. Also we let them know arm flailing is not acceptable at the table.

Our dinners aren't always perfect but we rarely have to discipline, bribe or reward when we think of how we can include them.

Good luck

Mum of 4, almost 5, boys.



answers from Philadelphia on

I have had this problem too (boys ages 2 and 4). I eventually sat them down (before dinnertime) and said that "you must sit and eat until you are full. Once you get up from the table or misbehave, I will take your dinner away and assume you are done. While everyone else finishes eating, you must go play queitly by yourself until we are done." It killed me to make them go hungry (the first couple of times they sat back down and I made them ask nicely if they could finish their dinner) and I let them keep eating. Now I just take it away if they misbehave and they seem to "get it" really fast. If I really need some time to sit down, occasionally I will let them hold a small toy at the table or give them a fun placemat with letters, numbers, pictures...etc to keep them occupied while they eat (probably not a great idea in the long run, but works when I need extra time (ie friends over...). Good luck!

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