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Getting Children to Stay at the Table

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Get Your Children to Sit Through Dinner

Today I was speaking at Research In Motion ( RIM) in Waterloo about power struggles. During the Q&A after my talk, an attendee asked me, “How do you make them stay at the table?”

I get that question a lot. While many families no longer force their children to eat (hooray!), they might require them to stay at the table until everyone is done. Except they fail at actually getting them to stay!

Do you demand attendance at the table until the end of the meal? Do you scream at your children, “This is family time, damn it, and we are all going to sit here and love one another even if it kills us! Now get your butt back on your chair mister”?

I love the idea of family meal time, and I think it’s important to “break bread” together. But forcing children to stay at the table will not achieve that happy family time you aspire to create. Instead, you’ll get whining, moaning and other misbehavior that sabotages your efforts. We don’t want to invite power struggles.

Instead of making attendance mandatory, I suggest you excuse anyone who wants down, and then work to create a fabulous family dinner atmosphere that attracts your children to come back or to stay. Stop harping on about what they are eating and the crap that happened at school. Instead, “socialize.” It’s a dinner party!

Can you stop “parenting” long enough to just enjoy the company of your children? That is what it’s about isn’t it? Here are some ideas for questions that you can use to get the conversation rolling. I promise you’ll draw a crowd with these:

1. What is your all-time favorite movie and why does it have special meaning for you?
2. What is your favorite book? What in it has personal meaning for you?
3. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?
4. What is the silliest thing you have ever done?
5. What is something you hate to do? What do you hate about it?
6. If you could be a super hero or fictional hero/heroine, who would you be? Why?
7. Do you like your name? If not, what would pick instead?
8. How do you feel about nicknames? Know any good ones? What would you pick for yourself? Why?

These are just a few ideas to replace the ole, “Do you have homework tonight?” or, “When are you going to write that thank-you card to Grandma for your birthday present?” Gee, I’d be running from you too!

If you have a good dinner table vibe going, share with others what makes it happen for you.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

6 Responses to “Getting Children to Stay at the Table”

  1. Fiona MacCool

    I totally agree and we let our daughter “be excused”. She can do whatever she would like as long as she takes her dishes to the table first. She is so social that she usually returns at any rate. The only problem with your advice – or I should say the only question I have, is when you are at a restaurant and they want to “be excused” when you have barely started eating and they aren’t old enough to wander around safely….I bring a deck of cards for her to play with but the rules definitely have to involve her staying put much longer…Maybe that is why we eat out less these days!

  2. Gillian Antoniadis

    I live near RIM in Waterloo, but I didn’t see this talk on your site until afterwards. Was it open to the public? Where do I find the list of upcoming talks? How can I set one up in my community?

  3. Heather Staines

    At our house we go around the table and share our favourite part of the day which usually leads to discussions as to why or stories etc. The other thing my husband and I try not to do is have an involved adult conversation between us, as this is when our kids usually misbehave.

  4. Alyson Schafer

    My girl friend reminded me of a dinner table “game” we played at our house when my children were little. I have my (then) nanny Salima to thank for thinking this one up.
    Basically you ask “what do you like better?” and then give two choices like:
    what do you like better? chocolate or peanut butter? ( they answer – chocolate)
    what do you like better? chocolate or going to the park? ( going to the park)
    What do you like better? going to the park or going to a movie ( going to a movie)
    What do you like better? going to a movie or playing with kittens? ( playing with kittens)
    What do you like better? Kittens or puppies?
    What do you like better? puppies or camping?
    well you get the idea… they like the repetition of the question asked the same way each time, and the fast fire one word answers without any explanation or pressure to explain – just comparing things you don’t usual compare. Chocolates or Kittens? Good question eh?

  5. Krista Duff

    What if your child is 2 and can’t take as much of a part in the “family fun” at the table? My daughter sits for about 5 minutes then leaves and wanders around. She often hovers around us and distracts her brother. We leave her dinner on the table and sometimes she’ll nibble on it until bedtime, other times, she won’t eat it at all. Should I take her dinner away once she gets up or is she too young for that kind of consequence?

    • Sarah

      We leave our DD’S plate around until bedtime too. Some days she gets hungry later, depending on what she ate at daycare. I think it also helps w trying new foods. Sometimes w/o the pressure of the meal she will give something new a nibble later. I know they say kids shouldn’t “graze” but I think for now it works for us. I figure we can always change later if needed.


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