If your kids’ behavior at Thursday’s Thanksgiving festivities left some, um, room for improvement, fear not. They’ll learn. You’ll teach them. We’ve got a plan. Faye de Muyshondt is the founder and author of socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS, and we drilled her on the ins and outs of teaching toddler table manners.
Before you start. “Decide what your expectations are, then just be consistent,” says Seedlings Group’s Dr. Aliza Pressman. “Don’t cave. They are capable of a lot, but the length of time may need to be adjusted from child to child. Try not to focus on what they’re doing wrong, rather point out things you would like to see them do again.” Lead by example. With a younger toddler, “the most important thing you can do as a parent is to model the eating habits that you hope your child will someday embody,” de Muyshondt says. “If you hope to have your child sitting for a meal at the table sooner rather than later, start having seated meals with your 18-month-old. Don’t let militant table rules take over, but instead, model the dining behaviors.” Ditch the digital. “In our very modern world, I hear so many parents express frustration over digital devices becoming a necessity at the table for toddlers. Start with precisely that. No technology during meals.” Be a realist. “Don’t have high expectations,” de Muyshondt says. “There was a stretch of time in my daughter’s life when we didn’t go out for dinners with her because she wanted to be roaming about restaurants and would leave more of her food on the floor than in her mouth. Once we got better at home, she was ready for a restaurant. But don’t set yourself up for frustration—really. The eyes don’t have to be on the prize. “If a reward system works, use it. Just be careful of not turning the meal into an unpleasant experience on account of the reward at stake,” de Muyshondt suggests. “A gentle reminder once or twice in a calm voice might sound like this, ‘When you finish your meal, then you may have a cookie,’ rather than an agitated voice saying, ‘If you don’t finish your meal, you’re not getting dessert.” And about those holiday meals. First and foremost, de Muyshondt says to decide whether or not the dinner is really suitable for your toddler. “If it’s at someone’s home, give them a heads-up in advance or ask if its appropriate to bring your child. Even if they have their own kids, don’t assume the host is privy to a toddler’s dining antics—people forget!”