How to Stop Your Child's Mealtime Tantrums
Are your 3 or 4 year old's tantrums getting to be too much? Author of 'Dinner for Busy Moms,' offers strategies on how to beat your child's food tantrums.
Get kid-friendly activities sent to you!
Get the Best Kid-Friendly Activities
Sent to You Weekly!
Try a distraction.
Give your child something else to think about by telling a funny story.
Remove the child from the situation.
Wait until she calms down before you talk to her. If your child is in the throes of a tirade, don't try to reason with her. Instead, let her know that as soon as she calms down you're there for her, but until then you can't help. Perhaps you've heard this from your own mom: Trying to talk a child out of a temper tantrum is like trying to get out of a hole with a bulldozer. The more attention you pay to the behavior, the more likely it is that it will not only continue, but it will escalate. Many experts advise, after all else fails, removing yourself from the situation in a calm way. Since tantrums are often for your benefit, once you're away from the table, you might be surprised how quickly they subside.
Be OK with the fact that your child may miss a meal.
Missing a meal (on occasion) because behavior was out of line is FINE, my comrade parents. Don't stress. Your child will not starve. Here's the but: Experts say you should not give in to snacks later, especially unhealthy ones, or you will be reinforcing the idea that your child can have a tantrum, leave the table, and eat snacks later. Instead, tell your child: "Dinner is over. Our next time for eating will be breakfast," or "Yes, I see you are hungry. That happens when we don't eat enough. Our next time for eating will be...." Or you can offer your child the chance to eat what they left at dinner.
Be firm and don't back down.
A tantrum is a tantrum is a tantrum, whether it's at the grocery store, Grandma's house, or sitting down as a family for dinner. Whatever the punishment (a time-out or the taking away of a privilege), make sure you honor your word. If you cave, you're setting your child up for a lifetime of acting out and expressing his/her feelings in passive and/or aggressive ways.
Be realistic and age-appropriate.
You know your child best. Any of the above tactics can work, but in the end, it all depends on your kids and the situation. Step back and consider the situation: Is your son/daughter tired? Acting out? Or simply frustrated? If he's tired (it's almost naptime, he isn't feeling well), give him a break. A hug and a treat, play dough after lunch, an extrahelping of Goldfish may resolve this type of tantrum quickly, followed up with a nap or quiet time. If, however, you see your child is testing you, draw a firm line. Following through is critical to get results. If kids are frustrated (they can't cut their own hot dog, are having trouble managing their utensils), then parental assistance usually helps. Not all tantrums are created equal, and you need to cater to your child's temperament and act accordingly.
Learn what to ignore.
Acknowledge and appreciate the times when the meal goes well not by saying, "I am so proud of you for not having a temper tantrum," but instead saying things such as, "I look forward to eating with you, hearing about your day." Focus on what you do want and ignore what you don't want. Whatever you pay attention to, you get more of.
Also see: 12 Tips to Encourage Healthy Eating