Imagine this scene: you are hosting a celebration dinner for your parents’ anniversary. A dozen family members are settled around the table, ready to feast on the elaborate meal you’ve spent hours preparing. Everything seems to be going well, until… your darling five-year-old declares, “This is YUCKY!” at the top of his lungs.
Your first response might be to turn to the person next to you saying, “I’m certain he was switched at birth.” But, as his unappetizing declarations spread to every dish on the table, you realize it will take more than a funny quip to restore peace to family mealtime. The best you can do right now may be to remind your son that this is not the way to behave and if he continues he will be choosing not to eat.
Mealtime battles offer parents a golden opportunity to teach children about responsibility, but the lesson begins long before your family sits down for dinner. In her book Eating, Sleeping and Getting Up, Dr. Carolyn Crowder asserts that including children in meal preparation provides children with a way to express usefulness as opposed to attempting to express power over you.
“They can begin to feel important because of all the helpful things they can do as opposed to feeling important because they ‘get your goat’ by being disruptive and uncooperative,” Crowder wrote.
Even very young children can help with getting meals ready. Whether it is planning the menu, washing vegetables, setting the table or actually cooking a dish, there is enough work to go around. And while your child might not be thrilled about eating vegetables, being given the power to choose which one will be served may make them go down easier.
“It is impossible to stress enough the importance of giving children chores and responsibilities to complete for the family unit, for this is their means of belonging to the family and being important to the smooth functioning of the household,” Crowder wrote. “Think of these ‘golden opportunities’ as gifts you can give your children and then even the youngest ones to help.” Giving children dinner responsibilities may take a few more minutes than if you’d fixed it yourself. The salad may end up having only lettuce (or only tomatoes if my youngest is charged with that task), but mealtime stress may be cut so much that you don’t even notice that the knife is on the wrong side of the plate.
To read more about dinnertime responsibility try Don’t Let the Peas Touch by Deborah Blumenthal (for preschool and early elementary students). Slightly older readers will enjoy A Home For Dixie by Emma Jackson. Emma adopts Dixie from the animal shelter and learns that lots of responsibility comes with owning a dog.
Gayleen Rabakukk is a freelance writer who spends her time in Edmond keeping up with her teenage and preschool daughters.