With the holidays quickly approaching, many parents and families are planning to visit relatives for delicious, traditional meals. Other parents will be serving meals at home for family and friends. Either way, children will be interacting with other children and adults during mealtimes and this can be challenging for parents. Being around new friends, cousins, aunts and uncles in a different environment can be exciting for your child, but may create an unstructured situation which can lead to mealtime disaster. (When my boys were young, I’m pretty sure we were not welcome at certain restaurants or friends’ houses during the toddler and preschool years.) While two and three-year-olds have a difficult time sitting and eating meals with adults (that is developmentally normal), it is important to teach children how to sit down and use mealtime manners so that they can develop social etiquette skills as they grow. Not only will these skills be useful in the home, but they will transfer to positive eating behavior at restaurants and the school cafeteria.
So how can you prepare your toddler or preschooler for a relaxing, nourishing meal with their family and friends, while keeping yourself calm and prepared? Set the foundation early for mealtime etiquette and practice each day (not just for the big holiday feast!).
My advice is to begin with “social stories.” Social stories are a quick, simplified way to teach social and emotional manners and feelings to children. I didn’t know about these when my children were young, but they would have been useful in many challenging situations. Social stories have been and are often used to teach autistic children, however, in my educational experience, they are useful for the general population of children as well. A social story takes very little time to create, and can be quickly read and discussed with children. To create a social story, follow these simple steps:
Remember, your child is not an adult and does not understand the adult world of social values yet. They’ve only had a few years to learn and make sense of an overwhelming world. Physically, they have small tummies and require smaller meals more often. They may not be hungry when it is mealtime, which is why they want to play, roam and run. Making him or her sit down during an adult meal can oftentimes become a source of trouble and discontent and will result in a tense meal for his or her parents and family members. It’s important to not use shame or physical punishment to make your child sit down and eat. Mealtime etiquette is a developmental and teachable skill. Keep mealtime positive and repeat social stories to teach your child.
Finally, knowing that toddlers and preschoolers are easily excited and out of a routine during the holidays, it is wise to plan ahead. If your social stories haven’t had time to sink in, then you might feed your toddler or preschooler ahead of time, so that you can enjoy your meal. Hopefully, with time, commitment and patience, your child will develop this important life skill, and you will all be welcomed into restaurants and family and friends’ homes to show off your toddler’s appropriate manners and excellent mealtime etiquette.
For additional social stories information, videos and editable story templates, see the KinderReady Parenting Resources page. These tools can be used to spark creativity so that you can write, discuss and act out personalized stories that relate to your family. Books about mealtime manners are also available at your local bookstore or library. As always, KinderReady is here to help and will happily assist parents and their children with all of their social etiquette needs.
Wishing you a restful and relaxing holiday season!
KinderReady Parenting Blog
Educational success starts at home. KinderReady supports both parents and their children as they prepare for the exciting and challenging road ahead. Parents, check back here for information that will help you support your child's development. KinderReady is here to help!