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Why Won’t My Child Sit Still During Meals?

Written by: Nanny Secours

July 18, 2013

Are mealtimes chaotic in your home? Do you feel like it takes your child a Herculean effort to sit still? Take comfort, you are far from being alone! While it is reassuring to be told that this behaviour is “normal”, it doesn’t really solve the problem. What causes this seat squirming at the table? Even better, how does one make it stop?
Several reasons can explain this situation. I will present three, along with some tips to help you create a serene mealtime atmosphere.

Children can’t sit still... because they are not comfortable!

As a baby, your little angel sat in a comfortable high chair with good back support and a footrest. Suddenly, it’s time for the transition to the big chair, but we tend to forget that the chairs we use are designed for adults and not children: the backrest is far and there’s no place for your child to rest his short legs. Thus, children can be inclined to move out of discomfort. As the chair is not ergonomic, your child may simply be looking for a fulcrum to restore some balance... causing meal-time squirming!

There are chairs specially designed and adapted to the various stages of your child’s development. At first, they serve as high chairs and can then be adjusted as the child grows. You can also place a footrest or a short stool at your child’s feet for additional comfort.

Children can’t sit still… because they need to move!

Some children are calm and capable of staying seated peacefully during meals, whereas for others, it’s an impossible mission! If moving around is a need, then it must be satisfied. It’s useless to keep telling your child to sit still or that he’s a real cabbage worm! He can’t help it, and both of you will only end up frustrated.

As a solution, try to satisfy this need to move through physical activity. Before dinner, encourage your child to go for a bike ride, to run outside, to play soccer/basketball, etc. Anything that increases the heart rate and makes your child spend energy is great! Be creative: dance around the kitchen on some lively tunes or create a series of small challenges for your child (jumping on one leg, five sit-ups, etc.) In addition to satisfying your child’s need, you will also share a privileged moment tinged with humor!

Another suggestion would be to wrap the bottom legs of your child's chair with a large rubber band or even a head scarf. Simply tie it around the chair’s front legs; your child will be able to place his feet within the band and stretch. As a result, only this part of his body will be in movement. In addition, you’ll avoid the annoying noise of small feet kicking the table legs. Your child can also press his feet on the band and use it as a footrest.
When your child’s need to move is satisfied, he is more available to listen and interact with those around him. What could be better for a peaceful family supper?

Children can’t sit still… because we can’t either!

Am I the only one who feels like I’m going in circles in my kitchen? If you can relate, you must feel as I did: ex-haust-ed! This constant movement on your part could be responsible for your child’s squirming!

We must never forget our children are like mirrors and reflect our attitudes in life. It is much easier to observe others than yourself. Take a minute and consider your actions. Have the children finished eating before your bum touches your chair? Do you get up 2, 3, or even 4 times during dinner to fetch milk, pick up a spoon that fell to the floor or clean up a mess?

Are you physically present but thinking about the three loads of laundry you have to do and your presentation in the morning, or about the toilet that keeps clogging up (because your youngest thought it would be a great idea to flush down all his hotwheels)? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, your child may be imitating your actions in his own way. Whenever you get up, you move. When you are thinking about all the work you need to get done, your mind is wondering, moving. Remember that in addition to being very receptive to our energy, children learn through imitation.

Try to create a peaceful atmosphere in which you can relax: dim the lights or take out some candles, play soothing music, and talk softly when speaking. You can also seize this opportunity to set a few mealtime rules: one of your children must help you with supper while the other sets the table, and above all, no one should start eating until the whole family is seated. Finally, enjoy the now! Children often live in the present moment; it’s your turn to follow their example!

Remember that these are just three possible causes of your child’s mealtime movement. I believe these are the main reasons for restlessness at the dinner table, although there are others. The important thing is to take a step back and to observe your child closely to discover why he behaves this way. By being attentive to the cause, you’re likely to find the appropriate solution.

In my opinion, mealtimes represent quality family time. With the busy lives we lead, it’s important to exchange with one another and build healthy relationships. Bon appetite!

Other useful references:
Enjoying meals with your child

Mélanie Dugas, Family Coach
Founder of GranDire
Member of the network: Nanny secours

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