Inside: Do you find dinner time with your small kids chaotic? If so, these tips will help.
Everyone goes on and on about how important dinner time is for families.
There’s all this pressure to sit around the table and talk about Deep Things and laugh and joke.
With everyone passing the salt and using their fork and knife.
Pa ha ha ha ha.
That ain’t what it looks like over here.
This is what it looks like over here.
Recently, however, we decided we needed to tighten up on dinner time.
My husband comes from a sweet reserved British family which means they are quiet and they wait their turn, and they wouldn’t interrupt an executioner walking them to the electric chair even if they were the wrong prisoner.
Okay that’s exaggerated.
But seriously, my husband struggles at family dinners if things are not calm and reasonable. And with 5 kids aged 8 and under, that does not happen by accident.
5 Dinner Time Hacks To Simplify (And Sanify!) Family Meals
In an effort to make dinner pleasant again for my husband, and to help children learn better table manners, we have begun reining things in.
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#1 – Simplify utensils, plates, bowls, and cups
I’m not sure when it happened, but I think it was a gradual slide until the first 5 minutes of dinner were taken up by arguments over who got what color plate and cup.
These power plays amongst siblings aren’t abnormal, but they were extremely annoying for us adults.
While reading Simplicity Parenting recently, I had a lightbulb moment. I then implemented the following.
- Remove items that are constantly fought over or – conversely – determine clear rules for who gets what. We had a lot of IKEA colored plates and everyone wanted blue so I simply put them away and we use our ceramic dinner plates. (In the photo above we were still in colored bowl hades)
- Let children have their favorites, but avoid situations where two are always fighting over something. Either get another or remove the item. If you don’t want to buy 5 of something (like me!) then removing it is much simpler.
- Use grown up plates and cutlery. This saves a lot of arguments. If everyone gets the same, no one even notices.
#2 – Assign seats
You are probably thinking… now this is extreme, Rachel.
And I would have agreed with you 3 months ago.
Until everyone started fighting to sit by the baby. It came out of nowhere and then this is where the kids wanted to meet their need for power. By choosing to sit by the baby. Then we had to rotate turns, then it was chaos. So I thought to myself…
“How can seating at the dinner table be more simple?”
If you have 2 kids or less it probably isn’t worth it. 3 or more (who vie for seating) and it might work! Every few weeks I’ll change seats, but this has cut down on a lot of “come to the table” spats.
#3 – Put everything you need ON the table
My dear friend gave me this suggestion around a year ago and it’s made a big difference.
Moms often spend half of the meal getting refills, getting a replacement spoon, getting the salt, etc.
Or maybe that was just me.
I felt like instead of eating my own food I was scurrying around. So, I stopped that.
- Get a pitcher of water (or your preferred drink) and keep it on the table for refills.
- Have your child set the table complete with silverware napkins, and cups.
- Keep condiments on the table. Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, whatever, put it all out there before everyone sits down.
- Basically, anything you or the kids get up from the table to get… put it on the table before you sit down.
#4 – Make rules around undesirable behaviors
Kids get rules.
As I’ve seen time and time again in my Language of Listening® training… kids love rules so much they make them up themselves!
My kids make up rules about how long they want me to read at bedtime, how long they can play with a toy until they share, and even which types of clothes they want to wear at home as opposed to clothes they want to wear to church.
They do this on their own.
Here are some of our rules… each family will vary
- You can’t get down until an adult excuses you.
- You can’t get up from your seat unless you’re going to the
- When getting down you must put your plate, utensils, and cup on the counter by the sink (if the dishwasher has clean dishes) or in the dishwasher.
- Ask before getting seconds.
Ask yourself this… which behaviors drive me nuts at dinner?
Then… make a rule to address it.
Kids (toddlers through elementary school) will learn everything from life management, social, survival, and hygiene skills PLUS MORE!
#5 – Talking sticks… (or their hands!)
There are 7 of us in our family and everyone has an opinion.
Everyone wants to share.
Everyone wants to talk.
Mostly at the same time.
This gradually got out of hand until dinner time was very nerve wracking for my husband and myself. We realized that in our effort to make sure our kids were heard and paid attention to… we’d neglected making sure they knew how to actually listen.
We want each of our kids to have a voice and each to know how to give space to the others. Here are some ways to do that.
- “One person talking at a time” rule. This is easy to make and requires diligence to enforce.
- A timer or a talking stick. My masseuse is one of 7 kids and she suggested having a timer or a stick and letting each kid say their peace while requiring the others to listen. Then, others are encouraged to ask follow-up questions (to teach conversation skills).
- The quiet game. I’m not sure how this got started, but one dinner that was too loud my husband said, “Let’s play the quiet game” and now it’s something regularly suggested if we feel the dinner table is not calm enough. And the best part? The kids willingly participate!
So there we have it…
Hopefully these little habits or rules of ours got your head spinning to address any meal time issues you’re having in your own home.