Dinnertime With A Four-Year-Old: Heaven Or Hell?

Self, Family

Parenting can be tough at dinnertime but you too can turn turn a nightmare into bonding family time.

Let me set the scene at our house at dinnertime lately: As soon as we sit down, my husband starts reminding my son to eat—stop wiggling around, stop talking, stop getting 15 different types of silverware, just eat. I start giving my husband "gentle pointers" about how we should handle this situation differently.

As you might guess, this does not go over well, and we start squabbling. Meanwhile, my son is doing anything but eating. So, we set a limit with our son and he starts screaming. We take him upstairs to calm down in his room where he proceeds to scream louder. There has to be another way. Last night, he literally threw fit after fit until he cried himself to sleep. There has to be another way.

So, today I decided to take a step back and consult my friend Twitter for some redirection. I read a timely article entitled "Transforming Struggles with Kids into Parenting That Works" (Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2014, from ). There were lots of goodies in this article, but the thing that struck me the most was the reminder of rehearsing it going well.

I tend to be a worrier. The problem with worrying is that it really is just a dress rehearsal for things going wrong. I believe in the old adage that what we focus on grows, what we ignore withers. Believe me, I do not want evenings like last night to grow and fester. So, the worrying has got to go.

Instead, I want dinner to be about togetherness, relaxation, and feeding ourselves—mind, body, and soul. I love the idea of taking a few seconds to visualize the trouble spots going well before walking in the door in the evening. It is like when Olympic athletes visualize winning their races before they start. Seeing is believing, right?

So, here's my visualization: Tonight on the way home, I excitedly invite my son to some one-on-one time as soon as we get home. We play and laugh, and I am totally in tune with my sweet, excitable, imaginative son. We both need this. Then, I tell him I really need a Stirring Captain to help with dinner.

During this time, I remind him that we should have time to play outside after dinner—if he gets done eating quickly enough. Daddy and older sister arrive home, and I smile because I am truly happy to see them. I relax and enjoy my family—even if my son decides not to eat. After dinner, we stick to our limit and enjoy time with our daughter outside alone if he still needs to finish.

I do this with relaxed certainty that he will eventually learn his lesson, and he will be able to calm down. I know this because I am doing this for myself at exactly this moment. After it is all over, I hug my son and tell him how much I love him and how I will be there with him even when things are hard. Because we are a family, and that's how we roll. I already feel the dread and anxiety rolling off my shoulders. Game on.