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.~