*Disclaimer: Please realize this advice is meant to be “tongue in cheek,” not to provoke hate mail or death threats. Hopefully, you can relate to having done some pretty crazy things as a parent and can have a good laugh at my expense. Yes, this advice is taken from my own actual parenting experience and is many times just plain wrong. No, I will not be winning the mother of the year award. Yes, I realize lightning might strike me at any moment. Please read this post before continuing, and only attempt to follow this advice at your own risk. Results may vary.
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best…” Hebrews 12: 10
I have two young children (3 and 5 years old) who make lunchtime miserable. They scream at each other the entire mealtime, and my 5 year old will not sit still long enough to eat 2 bites! Please help!
Hungry, Harried Mama
Dear Hungry, Harried Mama,
Separate these children! Divide and conquer. I know you want to work on their character. But you are together all day long, so there will be plenty of other opportunities for that.
First, I recommend acquiring two booster chairs with seatbelt straps and trays. (A cheaper alternative would be using a belt to strap them firmly to the dining room chair, but somehow that sounds even more wrong.) You may think your children are far too old for high chairs, but they’re not. Put the two booster chairs in separate rooms, preferably with each one facing a television playing that particular child’s favorite TV show or video. Strap each child securely in a chair (yes, they can get out on their own, but strapping them in keeps them from immediately jumping out of the chair and gives them a feeling of security which is especially helpful for ADHD and autism spectrum kids). Now give each child the food of their preference (something you know they will eat—do NOT under any circumstance try to force a picky eater to eat the food you made for the entire family or insist you are not a short-order cook—just give them what they like), then grab yourself a sandwich and a bowl of ice cream and sit quietly in the room of your choice. You deserve a break from the madness of the day and disciplining those two little whippersnappers.
After following this prescription for 3 months, try sitting them at the table together again for a meal. See how it goes. If they start screaming again or will not sit still, go back to the separate room scenario for another 3 months. Repeat until they are mature enough to sit at a table together and eat like reasonable human beings.
Do not be concerned about instilling bad habits. You are not breaking any commandments or scriptural laws here. The children will most likely grow out of it. My oldest 2 children received this method of mealtime discipline for several years when they were younger. They now both have perfectly respectable (well, at least passable) table manners, eat most foods served to them, and are fabulous conversationalists. I have two younger children who are following the separate-room scenario right now, and I have full confidence that they will grow up to be fine, upstanding citizens. As a bonus, I have survived their childhood so far with my sanity mostly intact and without the aid of medication.
Best of luck,