If you have a preschooler in your home and aren’t regularly eating dinner as a family, now is a great time to start a family dinner ritual. Preschoolers in general, and four-year olds in particular, love rules and rituals because being able to successfully follow them builds confidence. Rules help preschoolers learn how to navigate the world and help them develop self-control. Another nice aspect to creating a dinner ritual is that these rules apply to everyone in the family, not just your child. It gives the child a sense that they have a place at the dinner table and in your family. What better and more comforting way to help instill rules of conduct in your child than around the dinner table?
Below are some simple dinner time rules and concepts that can help your child build confidence, manners and self-discipline. These suggestions can help your family start the ritual of regularly eating dinner together. If you have other suggestions or family traditions that you would like to share I would love to hear them.
Set a regular meal time.
Kids that can predict what will happen and when it will happen have a greater sense of security. That is why preschoolers love a regular and orderly schedule. If your preschooler is like mine, she gets quite upset at any change in her normal routine unless it involves ice-cream. Once you set the meal time, your child will remind you if it is late.
Set the tone before dinner and give your children age-appropriate responsibilities.
I usually give my family a 20 minute countdown until dinner is ready. Part of the countdown includes reminding them of the following rules: go potty before dinner, wash hands, and set the table. This helps them transition from afterschool play time and/or homework to dinner and family time. As your children get older they can begin to help in preparing the food and meal planning.
Make sure you have rules at the dinner table; this would also be known as teaching manners.
Preschool table manners start with the regularly repeated request use your fork not your fingers. A non-negotiable rule is no toys at the dinner table which includes cell phones, blackberries and computers. We also agree that dinner starts when we turn off the TV. More subtle rules that are taught at the table are using the appropriate tone when talking, waiting your turn to speak and not speaking with your mouthful. Our personal family rule that is the ever challenging everyone must eat at least
one bite of everything on their plate.
Post dinner transition.
We allow our daughter to be excused from the table only after we are done eating. Again, the idea is to create a ritual level of importance of eating together. Other rules are clearing your dishes and wiping your hands and mouth before leaving the table. We like to make a habit of relaxing on the couch and chatting before cleaning the kitchen and starting the bedtime routine. It is a great way to transition from family time to bedtime.
While eating family meals may seem daunting at first, the thing to remember is that young children actually rely on rules to guide their decision making processes and to build self-discipline. Besides there are so many other benefits to regularly eating dinner together like increased communication and improved nutrition that in the long run it will be well worth the effort. If you would like to establish the healthy habit of eating family meals, your little preschooler is more than ready.