Temper Tantrums at the table are the worst.
I know it and so do you.
I have five kids. (six if you include my husband because he can be picky just like the kids).
To say mealtimes are stressful would be an incredible understatement.
No one ever wants the same things, no one seems to be hungry at the same time, and it’s a fight to get everyone to SIT THE FLUFF DOWN.
It’s a struggle, but there are ways to help combat the frenzy.
With that in mind, I’m breaking down why your child throws temper tantrums at mealtime and a few ways I have combated them in the past!
Quick Jump Guide: Temper Tantrums at Mealtime
In a hurry? Use this quick jump guide to get around quickly!
Why Do Children Throw Temper Tantrums at Mealtime?
This can depend on the day and will likely throw you for a loop from one day to the next with temper tantrums.
That’s okay, though, because if you start to recognize some of the causes, you’ll be able to determine what the issue is without much thought.
The Need for Control
Our kids, especially toddlers, are told what to do all day, every single day.
They’re not afforded too much freedom - even if you’re a bit more free-range like me.
There’s still a lot of choices being made for them.
They Don’t Want to Eat
Big surprise here, right?
They might not like the offerings - even if they said it was their favorite food yesterday.
That struggle. Argh. It’s too real.
They’re Overly Hungry
Think about the time you slaved over a big meal, didn’t eat while preparing it, sat down, and then didn’t want to eat anything.
Adrenaline is an appetite suppressant.
Pushing through the day without snacks or having longer stretches between meals can cause this.
Amongst toddlers, this is pretty common.
They have been making messes memories, playing at high speeds, and whatever else toddlers do.
They are balls of energy, but eventually, they do deplete that energy.
Sitting Still is Hard
I’ve been fidgeting in my chair this entire time and found excuses to get up twice now.
Some kiddos just have a difficult time actually sitting still which can lead to a temper tantrum.
Whether it’s a sensory need, hyperactivity, or special needs, some kids just need to move.
Sometimes It Can Start From Anything
Toddlers. Again. Temper Tantrums also just come with the territory.
Sometimes they’re only triggered by meal time or that shiny object in the corner of their eye.
To a certain extent, tantrums are pretty average.
I know that’s definitely not what you wanted to hear.
Breathe. We’re in this together.
If they miss a meal, they’ll be alright.
Their appetites are pretty irregular at this point.
How to Stop a Temper Tantrum at Mealtime
Now that we have an idea of some of the causes of temper tantrums, here are a few of the ways that I've found success in stoping
1. Ignore Them
This one is my personal favorite.
Over the years, I have learned to discern a temper tantrum from an autistic meltdown, the happy screams, the screams that mean someone is actually hurt, and everything in between.
Those shrieks outside of anything life-threatening or need my immediate attention are tuned out.
This doesn’t work for everyone, and hey, that’s okay!
If straight-up ignoring isn’t for you or seems to fuel the fire, try some bait and switch redirection.
I don’t mean to have them do something else. I
am talking about having a completely different conversation.
“Is green your favorite color?”
“Who’s your favorite superhero?”
“I heard daddy say that you did a really good job on xyz.”
Ask them anything that you think they’d respond to.
This works well at our house when things haven’t completely spiraled out of control.
2. Let Them Go
CALMLY tell them that they are excused or help them leave the area.
Don’t use this as a punishment, but as a form of redirection for their temper tantrum.
Let your child know that their actions aren’t acceptable at the table.
We have a kids couch in their room that we sometimes refer to as the “chill out couch.”
They can go there, be as loud and angry as they want, and decompress.
Almost always, they come back ready to take on the day.
Kids are still learning how to communicate and sometimes really need that safe space to let out what their words aren’t capable of quite yet.
3. Talk To Them
This is one that I try with my older kids.
I don’t foresee this being super helpful for toddlers, but ask them, “Hey, what’s going on?” “Is everything okay?” you might hear the unexpected and even be met with some solutions!
How to Prevent Temper Tantrums at Mealtime
Benjamin Franklin once said, "An ounce ofprevention is worth a pound of cure."
I couldn't agree more. So here are a few tips I have about how to prevent temper tantrum before they even start!
1. Two Knuckle Warning!
We’ve been watching the Croods - a lot.
Don’t judge me.
Give your kiddos a courtesy heads up.
Five minutes or so should do the trick.
Even if they’re just lounging around, they’ve got to know heard that they are about to shift gears.
Once this ball is rolling, you can add in some actionable things to do during this time.
For example, a speed clean, washing their hands or setting the table.
2. Shake the Sillies Out
Have your child wiggle, jiggle, and move about beforehand.
This is crucial if you’ve had a long road trip, been at the doctor’s office, or any setting that they were effectively bottling up all their energy that day.
3. Remember - They Might Not Be Hungry.
Even as adults, we aren’t always hungry at mealtime.
This can be for a multitude of reasons.
You can curtail this by curtailing snacks near mealtime. Offer water instead.
They’re not going to like this AT ALL.
Be persistent and consistent. It may take a few tries or even weeks, but eventually, they’ll start to understand the routine.
4. Keep Mealtimes Consistent
This sounds like a no-brainer, but how many times has five or six o’clock rolled around, and we realized we haven’t even started dinner.
Don’t harp on yourself.
We’re busy diffusing tantrums, keeping a house in order, and everything else that is a part of the parent’s life.
If you have to set up some alarms to remind yourself, do so! If meal prepping saves your sanity and allows you to get a mealtime routine going-stick with it!
5. The Power of Choice
We don’t offer this too much, but we’ll ask the kids what they want to eat once a week or so.
Again, I have five kids, so letting them just go balls to the wall with what they wish to won’t get us anywhere.
Instead, we offer two or three meals that they can choose from.
Almost always, they can agree.
6. Safe, New, Familiar
The rule of threes has been essential here.
There is always “safe” food on the plate.
Something they know they like and will eat no matter what is on that plate.
If they don’t eat anything else on the plate, at least they’ve managed something.
Something new and something they have eaten without much fuss is also on there.
This gives them some more feeling of choice.
7. The No Thank You Bite
I know this won’t jive with everyone.
I grew up in an era where we had to finish our plates clean off.
This didn’t give me a healthy relationship with food, but I did try a wide variety.
We have come to a middle ground of the “no thank you bite” Simply, we encourage them to taste foods on their plate.
This works about 50 percent of the time.
Sometimes they’ll just straight up say “no thank you” without trying it.
We don’t push any further.
That’s it. Hey, at least there were manners involved.
8. Skip The Rewards
Implementing rewards for eating can cause negative feelings towards mealtimes even if that wasn’t the intention.
This can also cause a lot of pressure, hurt feelings, and well an even bigger meltdown- especially if you’re not offering a reward for them to eat something they have eaten before.
Healthy eating relationships are key.
9. Little Bit of Fun at the Table
I’m not a Pinterest mom. I will never be a Pinterest mom.
More power to those of you who are! Seriously, you go!
I just do not have that kind of energy to make sandwiches look like animals or veggies in elaborate shapes.
I’m talking about keeping your table fun and engaging.
Whether that means sometimes having an indoor picnic, fun plates, spoons, and forks, or fun table mats.
Give your kids another reason to want to sit at your table.
Conclusion - Table Temper Tantrums
Temper tantrums are never fun.
All you're trying to do is feed your little one!
Trust me, I know.
Using my experience with my 5 children, I've laid out why children have tantrums and how to fix them and prevent them.
- Why Do Children Throw Temper Tantrums?
- The Need for Control
- They Don't Want to Eat
- They're Overly Hungry
- They're Tired
- Sitting Still is Hard
- Sometimes You Never Know
- How to Stop a Temper Tantrum at Mealtime
- How to Prevent Temper Tantrums
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