Your toddler will not eat without a TV on?
Low battery on iPad in the middle of lunch makes you panic?
Think reading to your child at mealtimes is better because it is educational?
Many of us resort to mealtime distractions because they seem to be the only way to get our children to sit down and eat. If you are like most parents, you may have started doing it because of a genuine concern that your child is not getting enough calories. But his eating will not get better before you get rid of all distractions.
What is the big deal about distractions at mealtimes?
If you allow books, TV or iPad at mealtimes, I am sure you are doing it for a good reason. Many of us resort to this strategy in order to *get* the child to eat certain foods or amounts. So although a common mealtime scenario, it is often a sign of parental agenda or mealtime pressure. And this IS a big deal because:
– Control and pressure at mealtimes result from lack of trust around eating. Some kids are harder to trust than others because they are going through a picky phase, have erratic eating patterns, are smaller than their siblings or have a history of growth problems. But distracting kids in order to get some food inside them is not helpful in the long term.
– Eating with distractions prevents from listening to our bodies. That’s why kids who are not trusted around food will likely grow into adults who have trouble understanding when they are really hungry or comfortably full.
– A child distracted with TV or books is not fully participating in family mealtime while you, a parent, often do not have time to eat at all, busy reading or helping set up a movie.
And you do not have to wait long to see the effect of meals with distractions. A recent research study published in Appetite says that small kids snack more if they were distracted when eating meals before that.
It makes a perfect sense. Eating is not only about getting calories. It is a potentially highly rewarding act that leaves us satisfied or, well, unsatisfied. Paying attention to the food you are eating gives satisfaction and help stay attuned to hunger-fullness.
But if you eat a plate of food while watching an exciting TV drama or reading a thriller you may find yourself rummaging the kitchen cupboards half an hour later.
Kids are the same. Let them eat with distractions, and they will be begging for snacks in a short while and in the long term, forget how to stop eating when full.
How you can go screen free at mealtimes?
Concerned that your child will not eat a bite without a screen? Here are 5 steps for screen free mealtimes:
1. Troubleshoot the mealtime structure. Afternoon snacks too close to dinner? Dinner is too late when the child is tired? How can you make sure he is comfortably hungry, but not starving, for the meal?
2. Especially at the beginning, include familiar and liked foods in family meals so the child can always find something to eat and make sure to schedule a snack 1.5-2 hours after a meal so he has a chance to eat again soon.
3. Adjust expectations. 10-15 minutes of sitting still at a table is a very long time for a busy toddler. Set a timer for 5 minutes at first and extend mealtime to 15 minutes gradually.
4. Understand whether your child’s eating is typical for his age or he is struggling with some underlying challenges that make eating difficult.
4. Relax about the number of bites and spoonfuls. Less pressure at mealtimes means better eating habits for the rest of the life. Follow the Division of Responsibility in feeding and look at a bigger picture.
5. Get personalized help. Schedule a free phone chat to see how I can help. Eating with TV, iPad or books is a very common concern for many parents and I have helped many to successfully get rid of all mealtime distractions.