During lunch over the weekend, friends asked me when my boys learnt to sit at the table, and when could they expect their two year old toddler to join them and quietly eat his meal. I was caught a little off guard because I really can’t remember when the transition happened and I also did not have the heart to tell them that at seven and ten years old it is still sometimes a challenge! I gave some very vague, non helpful answer and now feel I let my friend down and could have said so much more.
I don’t think you can expect a two year old to sit at the table and join you for dinner. A two year old is far too busy exploring the world and needs to move around a lot! By expecting him to sit still and eat nicely you are putting so much pressure on yourselves and on him and it will stress everybody out. Yes I have seen two or three year old children sitting beautifully at a restaurant eating with a knife and fork and listening to their parents, but each child is so unique and it is ok that your toddler is a busy and active little guy. The minute you put expectations on him, you are all in for a major fall.
I know how stressed I still get when my boys don’t do what they are ‘supposed’ to do. Most of the time it is not even my expectations, but those of family, friends and society that we are trying to uphold. Is it that important that at two your toddler sits down and eats with you at the table for an entire meal? Obviously in the perfect world we would all chuckle smugly while sipping chilled blush as our toddler delightfully eats every scrap on his plate before politely asking to be excused, but seriously I think that there were much more important things that I saw at lunch that day.
I loved seeing my friend happy and relaxed sharing a moment with her husband in a secret smile while looking at their son. I felt excited listening to them chat about their new house and their hopes and dreams for the future. I enjoyed watching Dad teach his little boy to swim and to float on the noodle in the pool and to show him a lesson of trust as he caught him when he jumped in from the side. These moments for me were far more precious and impressive than good table manners at this stage.
Some tips that helped me around mealtimes are:
Try and lead by example and sit at the table for meal times. Make it an occasion and even ask him to help out with setting the place mats and carrying the salt and pepper.
I used a Sitright (or try Enzi) chair and these are great as you can push them right up to the table and make a big deal out of his own special, big boy chair!
Sit down together and don’t make a big fuss if he needs to have a wander around. Carry on as normal and he may get inquisitive and come back for more.
Don’t make a big deal out of the meal. Toddlers are way too clever and can spot a con a mile off. Don’t do fake yum yums!
Try not to let your little one graze throughout the day – it is easier to have him sit down and eat if he is hungry and has not been snacking right up till supper time.
I wish someone had said to me that if it all goes pear shaped it really does not matter and you can try again tomorrow!