Monday, November 4, 2013

Suppa' Time

Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. chaos erupts in the cute little ranch-style house with the white picket fence. Fiery explosions come in blasts from a tired one year-old, crashes come from a penned-up toddler who loves to romp through walls and furniture, and an almost-teenage angst comes from a kid who wants to play but needs to work a bit, even after a long day of school. 

The water in the pot bubbles to a boil, the vegetables begin to steam, and the oven temperature climbs. The heat is on at the Marshall's in those pre-dinner hours.

Dad comes home and the chaos melts into symphonic celebration. Loud joy. 

Then dinner, which is a clamor. For food, yes, but more for attention. This comes in the form of boisterous baby babbling, talking through stuffed cheeks, standing up on chairs, loud voices bouncing off the narrow dining room walls, and behavior fit for an oafish lump of vikings. 

I'm out of ideas. 

I love dinner.  I work hard to make dinner and to prepare for it.  We even breathe and stretch for a while before dinner starts to help everyone mellow out.  

What do you do so that meal prep time and dinner time are peaceful, happy times?  How do you teach and reinforce manners without making them the only topic of conversation at dinner?  How do you teach your children to be polite when other people are talking?


  1. It's a great question. I'm afraid we aren't facing this quite yet... since Peter is our only one. We have a different problem, in that he will make big messes (dumping/throwing/painting with food) during meals. I realize this mostly happens when we are absorbed in conversation with each other, leaving him out. Or if I am reading while eating and it is just the two of us. I think we need to include him better at mealtime!

    I love your idea of breathing and stretching.

    Maybe for a little while you could make polite dinner conversation into a game. Like have something (a flag, a special cup) that you pass around the table, signifying your turn to speak (or everyone else has to raise a hand maybe?)

    Group of cows = herd
    Group of lions = pride
    Group of rhinos = crush
    Group of vikings = lump

    1. I like the idea of passing something around to help us learn to take turns. Thanks!

  2. This is a toughie. I don't have answers for you, only feelings of, "Sigh. I know." Thankfully George has moved past the self-painting at meals, but Fred is getting there. They don't talk over each other, but I have noticed, as Meredith has, their out bursts do seem to coincide with whether Joe and I are absorbed in conversation between us two. I usually just politely tell George that Joe and I are discussing something, and that we can listen to him in a moment. I always try to afford him this same politeness if he was talking to Joe or me first -- try to save comments, or other talk until he is done. I want him to know what he has to say is important too. If it's Fred being overly loud... I usually just shovel more food in his mouth ha ha :) That is most often the reason he is yelling -- that and he hate being caged into his high chair. Poor soul prefers to be doing laps around the table while he eats. :) Funny babe.

    I'm sure this will all become more complicated as more of us are speaking.

  3. What a colorful portrait of dinner time, Ariel. Made me smile. I love the togetherness of family dinner time, but it's true that with the belly-filling, laughing, and catching up can come a fair amount of hullabaloo.

    One thing I love is having dinner ready ahead of time as much as possible (e.g. prep during nap, slow-cooker meal, leftovers, or just a fast prep meal) so my pre-dinner hour is not swamped in the kitchen. Also so dinner doesn't get smushed into bedtime. As with Evelyn, James is usually tired by then and ends up begging at my feet for attention. I can only keep him watching me from the stool or playing in the sink so long...

    What about the other boys? They are usually heavily invested in some creative venture before dinner, but I expect them to help set, and try to give them enough warning so it's not a shock to be asked to stop playing and come help or wash up. We have fairly strict rules about certain mealtime behavior: chair legs on the floor (Daniel does get away with standing on his... poor boy just can't keep still), chewing with lips closed, talking after swallowing, holding utensils correctly, thanking for meals, etc. I don't think we have much trouble talking over each other, but we have practiced saying "excuse me" (at other times) if we desperately need to interrupt. We try to keep conversation to topics interesting to everyone, but I think it would be nice to have more structure there. For example, in my house growing up, Monday dinner was always Book Report time and everyone got a turn. I always looked forward to that.

    One thing we've had fairly good success with is stating positives in absence of the negative. "You remembered not to touch me with those messy fingers!" "You just asked so politely. That made me feel good!" "You were listening when your brother was talking just now." "You took that big bite all on your own!" When we give attention to the behavior we want, it tends to happen more often.

    You may not have this issue, but James has started throwing food on the floor when he doesn't want it. Rather than, "Don't throw your food on the floor," we try to say "If you don't want it, put it in the cup-holder." If he persists, I turn the high chair around for one minute, and I'm trying to teach him to apologize. It's slow but steady progress. Any other ideas on that?

    Another mealtime challenge for us is getting the daydreaming 3-year-old to eat at a pace similar to the rest of us. Probably half the time, he just can't focus on his meal and ends up sitting there by himself, often chewing bites for much longer than necessary.

    Sometimes when we do have to remind about something over and over, it's frustrating to get to the point where parental corrections become ruder than the initial offense. When Keenan and I manage to remain calm in the face of an irritating behavior (sometimes one of us balancing out the other), the children respond better and dinner time stays more peaceful.

    I'd love to see more discussion on this!

    1. We have the opposite problem with George, that you have with Daniel. He often takes bites that are so big, he can't manage to swallow them down. It's a work in progress.

  4. This subject has been on my mind as well. Dinner time isn't that crazy for us yet, but I realize that now is the time we need to set the rules and a standard of behavior. It's a little too casual as it is, and I want to stress that everyone stay at the table until we're all finished (within reason) and other such niceties.