How to Help Kids Stop Dawdling at Meals

How to Help Kids Stop Dawdling at Meals

Most parents ask me for help with getting their kids to actually stay sitting at the table (if that’s you, check out this blog post). But every once and a while parents ask me for help with the opposite problem. Their child takes forever to eat. Every meal is a long, drawn out affair with long minutes going by between each bite. Every time you go to take their plate away they take another bite or two. You feel torn amongst letting them get enough to eat and actually moving along with the day. If this sounds like you, here’s a strategy to help your child eat enough during a reasonable mealtime.  

Step #1: Check Your Expectations. For us adults, the mechanisms of eating are easy. We move the muscles in our mouths and throats to eat without even thinking of it. And, we have the dexterity to use utensils with ease.

Toddlers still are learning the mouth control for eating. So it can take longer to chew and swallow safely. That’s exactly why we have the recommendations of not giving choking hazards to kids under 3 years old.

Preschoolers and school-age kids have mastered chewing and swallowing. But they are still mastering utensils. Expect them to take longer to eat when a meal involves utensils.

Step #2: Use a Visual Clock. Have you taken into account the extra time for mouth coordination and utensil use and determined that you have an honest to goodness dawdler? Here’s a technique that I’ve used with lots of kids to help them learn to manage their mealtime. It’s quite simple really. Kids this age do well with visual cues. This technique stops you from nagging that it’s time to finish up (and prevents kids from learning to tune you out). You simply set a timer, let kids see it counting down, and kids learn to manage completing their task (in this case, eating) within the allotted time. Older kids can follow a simple timer countdown on a cell phone or tablet set up on the table. Younger kids need a visual that doesn’t involve numbers. There are a number of apps and devices available to create a visual representation of a clock. An example of a product is:

To look for apps simply search for “visual timer” in your device’s app store (iTunes, Google Play).

To use the visual clock, introduce the new rule to your child then follow-through. Expect them to get it wrong a few times as they experience the learning curve. During this transition, don’t let them continue eating after the timer is done. Because they will likely be a bit hungry, do plan an extra big snack and, if you can, move snack time up a bit.

Kids are smart. They learn how to regulate their meal time within a few days.

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How Much Should You Focus on Your Child’s Table Manners?

Before I chat about child table manners, I want to explain this photo. Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Ellyn Satter speak live. Ellyn's work is the foundation for mine. She's easily the most influential person in my career. And while I've thoroughly studied her work and used it with families for more than 7 years, I had never met her. By the time that I was finished university, had started to pay down my student loans, and could afford to travel to a US destination for her in-person training seminars, she retired. But yesterday she came out of retirement to present in Vancouver. You bet that I was going to be there - I may have been the first to register :) The table manners question was asked of her, and it was fantastic to see that she responded with the same answer as I give parents.

Table manners, like most matters of etiquette, can cause a strong reaction in us - really getting under our skin. When it comes to table manners, parents usually approach me in two ways (which really are about the same thing). Either they ask about how to best teach kids to have good table manners. Or, they’re embarrassed about their child’s messy eating and apologize to me for it.

When it comes to table manners, the best course of action is to not sweat about it. Like many other things, your actions speak louder than words. Kids naturally have an internal drive to master things and grow up. Eat together with your child on a daily basis. Use good table manners yourself – use utensils, a napkin, say “please” and “thank you” when you ask someone to pass you the pepper, don’t get up and down from the table like a jack-in-the-box. Your child will pick up your good habits.

That is, as long as they aren’t staring at a screen during the meal (iPad, phone etc).

Don’t sweat your child’s messy eating. It’s normal for kids to use a combination of utensils and fingers into the school-age years, depending on the food and how hungry they are. And like all things, some kids learn to use utensils faster than others.

The most important factor for kids to learn to love healthy eating is to enjoy eating at the table. This requires the table to be a pleasant place. Constant nagging about table manners (“elbows off the table”, “use your fork”, etc) can really get in the way of kids enjoying meals.

It takes a lot of effort to organize yourself to plan and prepare meals and snacks and to have an adult sit down with your child to eat together. Congratulate yourself for accomplishing this and know that over time your child will learn good table manners.

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Food Rewards - How to Get Your Child to Behave Without Them

Food Rewards

I was happy to meet Julie recently. She's a child behaviour and discipline specialist. As soon as I met her I knew that she would be the perfect person to answer a question that parents often ask me. You see, I teach (based on the research) that it's not good to use food as a bribe or reward for kids behaviour. So parents would ask me for alternatives. And that's where I hit the end of my expertise - I'm a child-feeding expert - not a child behaviour expert. Read on to see what Julie recommends as alternatives to food for teaching kids to have good behaviour.

Enjoy! Kristen

  • Chocolate to stop crying.
  • Dessert if you finish all of your dinner.
  • Candy to buy a few extra minutes of peace & quiet.

Why Food Rewards Are A Bad Idea

Parents give food rewards to their children because it works……for the short term, plain and simple. However, the long term effects on the child may include poor appetite management, low self-esteem and distorted food control because they have now associated food with negative behaviour and/or pain. This learned behaviour could possibly leave your child with a potential food addiction which can carry right on through the teen years and well into adulthood.

There are many other ways to encourage your children to do what you expect of them without bribes, threats or rewards. Add more options to your Parenting toolbox so you are not left with food rewards as your only option.

5 of our BEST BEHAVIOUR Techniques (Without Food Rewards)

  1. Expectations & Routines – create routines throughout the day with your expectations in them
  2. Visuals – create a chart, poster or picture for each routine & reference them throughout the day
  3. Choices – offer your child at least 2 things to choose from instead of just demanding something
  4. Follow through – what you say… do!
  5. Consistency - say & do the same thing each and every time the same behaviour shows up

Try all 5 together for the BEST RESULTS!

Find out more on this topic and many others at

Learn about Julie Romanowski, Mom, Early Childhood Consultant & owner of

Miss Behaviour: parenting coach & consultant service.






"CHILDREN'S BEHAVIOUR & DISCIPLINE SPECIALISTS!" behaviour - discipline - tantrums - communication - interactions - daily routines – solutions

A Super Way to Introduce Kids to the Kitchen: Smoothies

smoothies You’ve probably heard that it’s great to get your kids to help you in the kitchen to learn cooking skills, instill healthy eating habits, and more.


When I’m talking with moms and dads they often tell me one of two things about this:

  1. It sounds like a great idea. But they just can’t imagine how to make it happen when they think about the amount of work and the mess.
  2. Yes, they bake with their kids sometimes.


This is another great example of us health folks meaning one thing and parents hearing another.


Now don’t get defensive or let your mommy guilt kick in. I’m taking ownership of the miscommunication happening here.


When I mean “cook with your kids” I mean “get your kids involved in making healthy foods”.


I’m not against baking with kids. It’s fun too. Just don’t limit yourself to baking.


Invite your kids into the kitchen to help with simple, everyday tasks.


Choose one simple task for them to help with. Examples include:

  • Washing veggies
  • Measure out the dry quinoa/ rice and water
  • Spinning and tearing up the lettuce for a salad
  • Setting the table
  • Placing dirty dishes in the dishwasher
  • Smoothies


Smoothies are also a fantastic way to get kids in the kitchen:

  •  They’re something that they can make from start to finish.
  • They’re quick and relatively mess-free.
  • They include healthy ingredients.
  • I’ve never met a child who doesn’t LOVE to push the buttons on machines (from cell phones to elevators to blenders).

And, while sometimes parents confess to me that they “hide” foods in smoothies (e.g. kale, spinach), it’s not “hiding” when your kids are the ones putting the ingredients in the blender! They’re simply helping make a tasty dish that includes healthy ingredients!

Do you involve your kids in making smoothies? What are your favourite smoothie combinations? I'd love to hear from you (comment below)!

123's on the ABC's (Guest Post)

iStock_000000982062XSmallToday I'm sharing with you a guest post from child literacy expert (and my friend), Nicola Lott. She has great news on how to support your child to love learning. Also she has some great games and books for sale if you're looking for last-minute Christmas gifts. Enjoy! Kristen


There is conundrum facing all parents of kids aged 0-5years. You want to make sure that your child is prepared for school but you don’t want to be a “pushy parent”. A profusion of myths have sprouted over the past decade around the skills kids need to start Kindergarten, leaving parents trying to do their best with very little more than guesswork and gossip as a guide.

Everyone has met at least one parent in the playground with a 2 year old who knows the alphabet and appears to be on a trajectory to read War & Peace by Christmas.

Fact: In BC the learning deliverable upon graduation from Kindergarten is that kids will know at least 20 letters. Kids are certainly not expected to know the alphabet upon entering Kindergarten. Some do, but not all.

The truth is that learning to recognise the letters is just one of the many vital pre-reading skills that kids need in order to become accomplished readers. The best way to build these skills is to expose your child to a wealth of books from birth onwards. Be sure to read a range of non-fiction, fiction and rhyming books to help build a broad vocabulary. Modeling how much you enjoy reading has a profound impact on your child. Use the dinner table and car trips to work on listening skills by clapping out word syllables and playing sound games like “what sound does ‘car’ begin with?” That way, when your child is ready to learn the alphabet he or she will already have an understanding of language and how it goes together making letter learning meaningful.

Kids typically come to a place where their brain is ready to 'easily' learn letters sometime between three and a half and six years old.

When your child is ready to learn letters, he will be able to spot the difference between the shapes of the letters and be excited about learning them. Start by teaching the letters in his name. If that goes well try some other useful words like 'Mummy' & 'Daddy'. If it's going well, keep going. If not, wait for six months and try again. Studies show that children who learn to read at their own pace in a home where parents share their passion for reading are more likely to read for pleasure by the time they are ten years old, and in the big picture, that's far more important than learning to read early.

The next time you feel unsure about your child’s literacy abilities, take comfort in the knowledge that the path to raising a child who loves reading may not necessarily be the shortest one.

Nicola Lott is a Family Literacy Specialist who helps parents navigate early literacy in a fun playful way. Check her out at or on Facebook.