Parents get very vexed about why their small three or four-year old cannot sit still through a meal….but if you know about normal development, you will see this is difficult for a six-year-old!
Here is normal developmental behavior for mealtimes in regard to each age from 12 months through eight years of age:
At 12 to 15 months, the gross motor drive is strong – may be difficult to sit and eat a meal, may want to stand in highchair if family using one
After 12 months, toddler may go through phase of not being interested in cup
15 to 18 months toddler very interested in self-feeding; may throw food
21 month old may have definite preferences, such as a certain bib, a certain spoon, a certain dish – but may not have the words to express it and therefore becomes frustrated!
24 months – preferences are high as related to taste, form, consistency, color – Think small helpings, teaspoon sized! Ritual demand of eating the same things reaches its height at 2 ½.
3 years old – Eating better, appetite fluctuates less, the child has become a good chewer . On the downside, may dawdle if eats with whole family.
4 years old – Typically talks a lot, usually has to interrupt meal to go to bathroom, has much trouble sitting still
4 ½ to 5 – A distinct rise in appetite, can listen as well as talk at the dinner table, may use a knife for spreading but not for cutting
6 years – Perpetual activity! Cannot sit still, wiggles in chair, eats with finger, talks with mouth full, cannot finish meal. Preferences and refusals very strong.
7 years - Handles knives, forks, spoons better than they did at age six although may still use fingers to push food onto fork; liable to pop up from table to see something outside but much more able to sit still than at age six; may participate a bit in conversation at the table or may be silent; may bring the toys he or she was just playing with to the table.
8 years old – can typically use a knife to cut meat; apt to play with silverware or reach across table for food; they talk and argue a lot and tend to interrupt adult conversation so they need your guidance regarding this; tend to eat fast and be done eating before the other members of the family
So what can you do to ensure a peaceful mealtime?
I think one thing is to PLAN what you want your mealtimes to look like. Here are some questions to stimulate your thoughts:
Is everyone just getting food and then scattering or do you actually sit down together?
Do you have everyone set the table and help bring food out?
Does your meal start with a candle lighting or a blessing?
When a small child is done eating before everyone else, what is the rule in your home? Do they have to stay there until you are done or can they play with something quiet nearby?
Does everyone help clean up? Even toddlers can have a job – if this is your first toddler, you will have to do the job with them, but with subsequent children perhaps a big brother or sister can help the toddler do his or her job.
These are important questions to consider! If you know how you want things to be, AND you have realistic expectations for your child’s age AND you keep things short, then you have a much greater chance of meal times being peaceful!Think about this subject, meditate on it and design the family meal time that fits your family culture best!