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Entries in Misbehavior (9)


Kids Eats Q&A: How Do I Deal with a Dinner Dawdler?

Got a Dinner Dawdler?

You know the kind of kid I'm talking about: 

  • She comes to the table and then just sits there, taking a bite every now and then, but not usually without a little prompting.
  • He comes to the table all full of giggles and laughter, ready to put on a show.
  • She constantly hops up and down from the table to check on something vital going on in the other room (a game half-played?) barely taking a bite.
  • He eats constantly throughout the meal but his bites are so small you begin to wonder whether he's even putting anything in his mouth!

Or maybe your dinner dawdler is really a breakfast or lunch dawdler. Dinner Dawdler come in all shapes and sizes. And they bless lots of families...especially when they're toddlers. 

So what can you do? I get this question a lot.

1) Figure out why your Dinner Dawdler dawdles.

There are many different reasons kids are dawdlers. For instance, perhaps your Dawdler is:

  • Not Hungry 
  • Distracted and Unfocused
  • Seeking Attention
  • Naturally a Slow Eater

This is not an insignificant step, so don't overlook it. You have to know why your child dawdles in order to implement the correct fix!

2) Match a structural solution to the cause.

Structure—a pattern of interactions that are routine, and therefore dependable—stops the struggle. (But only if you implement it clearly and consistently!)

  • If your child isn't terribly hungry at meals: Space snacks and meals out a little more. I call these Eating Zones: times when your child can and cannot eat.
  • If your child is distracted and unfocused: Remove distractions (such as a TV) when possible. Other distractions, such as a game that was left half-played before the meal, might need to be addressed another way: A doll could be "invited" to sit at the table with you or a family game could be scheduled after dinner.
  • If your child is seeking attention: Beef up your positive reinforcements by acknowledging the good behavior when it happens (even if you have to "jump" on the good behavior the second it happens).
  • If you have a naturally slow eater: well...this one's tough. As long as your child is consistently working on eating throughout the meal, I think you've got to let your child keep working.

3) Consider a Timer!

Your Dawdler might continue to dawdle...even with a great structure that addresses whatever makes your Dawdler dawdle! That's because dawdling is a HABIT and habits take time to unlearn.

Timers work because they do the nagging for you! And they're consistent. (I don't know about you but sometimes my "you have five minutes" turns into fifteen!)

There are two ways to use a timer. 

  • Set a total amount of time for the meal.
  • Set a time to complete the meal after the last person (other than the dawdler) has finished.

I prefer the second approach, but it's up to you.

For more on this topic:

It's something to think about. It might even be something to read about!

 I discuss all of these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


The Nag Factor

Research shows that children influence purchases like cars, vacations and electronics. And, of course, children influence food purchases.

  • Children influence food purchases proactively: One study shows kids put approximately 6 items in the cart.
  • Children influence food purchases by nagging: One study shows that some kids ask more than 50 times for particular products.

50 times? That's one helluva parental headache!

Nagging comes in many guises, but it's always a pain in the butt.

Kids nag by:

  • Repeatedly asking for items, whining, stomping feet, making fists, grunting.
  • Putting items in the shopping cart even when told, "no."
  • Having an all-out tantrum.
  • Being manipulative, i.e. by professing love or hate for the mother, and by saying other children have the item.

You don't have to take it. You can teach your way out of this problem. (After all, the chances are that you, inadvertently, taught your way into this problem.)

There are two ways to eliminate nagging:
  • Say "no" and mean it.
  • Say "yes." (After all, if you're going to say "yes" eventually you might as well say "yes" from the get-go and save yourself the fight.)
Don't say no unless you mean it.

"No. No. No. Yes" actually encourages your kids to nag. They know that wearing you down is a strategy that works. They  just don't know when it will work.
I can hear the protests now: "But my child continues to ask... even after I've said, 'no!'" 

That's also a strategy that kids learn. After you have said "no" once or twice—the second "no" is kind of like a short grace period— refuse to engage in the conversation (and I use the term conversation lightly).
  • "You've already asked and I've already answered. Asking again won't change anything."
  • "Even if I wanted to change my mind, now I can't. I don't want you to learn that nagging works." (I LOVE this reply because it teaches the lesson explicitly.)
Then, ignore, distract, or use a time out. BUT, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT, don't ignore the intial request.
  • If you ignore the intial request you will promote nagging.
  • And don't ignore your child without warning: "I've answered you and now I'm going to ignore your requests."
Clarify the shopping rules before you get into the store.

Here are some ideas:
  • You may select one item to purchase that is not on my list.
  • You may (or may not) eat that item (or a piece of that item) while we are shopping.
  • If you nag me for a second item you will not get the first item.

And, afterwards, of course, "Thank you for behaving so well at the grocery store today."

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Henry, H. K. M. and D. L. G. Borzekowski. 2011. “The Nag Factor: a Mixed-Methodology Study in the Us of Young Children's Requests for Advertised Products.” Journal of Children and Media 5(3): 298-317.


Kid Eats Q&A: Help! My son would rather entertain than eat.

Everyone loves the class clown.

Clowns make things fun. They entertain. They make us happy.

Unless, that is, you're trying to get something done.  Like teach a class, or serve some dinner.  As a former college professor, this question really resonated with me.

Brenda writes:

I have a child who spends more time being the entertainment at dinner than eating his dinner. He is 7, almost 8 and from the time he could sit in a high chair, he has enjoyed dinnertime but especially because it's his time to talk and tell jokes and be silly. Sometimes he's out of his chair, most of the time he's in it. And I'll admit, he's so darn entertaining that it's hard to ignore him! He talks a mile a minute and asks a lot of questions--generally just an inquisitive and engaging child.

Brenda continues:

How much do we push our children to eat SOMETHING. Or is it the old, let them be hungry after dinner a few nights and they will then realize mealtime is the time to eat, not 20 minutes later?

Though I'm not a fan of pushing kids to eat more, and I believe that sometimes a little hunger can go a very long way, I think there's a better, more nuanced, solution than simple starvation.

Read Two More Bites and The Upside of Hunger.

Balance entertaining and eating by changing the mealtime environment.  

  1. Don't focus on the food...
  2. Or on how much your son eats. 

Instead, alter how you interact at dinner.

Read Meals: The Daily Struggle and When Playing is More Fun Than Eating

My 10-Point Plan for Feeding an Entertainer

1) Talk to your child about the importance of eating at mealtimes, and acknowledge that eating rather than entertaining can be difficult and boring.  Brainstorm solutions with your son, including some of the following suggestions.  Read Table Talk and Conscious Parenting.

2) Give your son 10 minutes of pre- or post-meal attention every night so he can revel in having an audience.

3) Limit snacks before dinner so your son is hungry when he sits down to dine.  Alternatively, consider giving your son a quality pre-meal snack (fruit, vegetables, salad, etc.) so you know he’s “good to go,” even if he never really settles down to dinner.

4) Teach your son to share the stage by giving everyone time to talk during meals. Consider using a talking stick to promote table time democracy with a visual cue of who has “the floor.”

5) Set some of the conversation by introducing a topic for discussion: politics, world affairs, geography, the pros and cons of something that's on your mind....

6) Require everyone to stay seated for the duration of the meal (even if standing would really, really enhance the story).

7) Decide, with your son, how much time he should have to complete his meal after the last other person has finished eating.  Use a timer if you think it will help.

8) Give your son gentle reminders to let him know how much eating time he has left.

9) Eliminate after-dinner snacks.

10) Remember to enjoy the nightly show!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~