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Some parents feel that their child(ren) stay at the table forever! Parents say they are following the Division of Responsibility™ and worry that setting a time limit will be restricting or somehow interfering with their child doing his jobs with eating. There are variations on this theme: When parents say, “that’s it for now,” their dawdling toddler or preschooler takes a renewed interest in eating. School-age kids linger an hour at dinner and want to talk. Eight-year-olds take an hour to eat and squirm a lot.

What’s really happening?

To troubleshoot your particular situation, ask yourself:

  • Do you have an agenda for your child’s eating? That is, do you keep him at meals until s/he finishes a certain food or a certain amount of food?
  • Is this the only time s/he is getting your undivided, one-on-one attention during the day?
  • Are you saying things like, “hurry up,” “stop talking,” “finish your ___________?”
  • Are there too many “fun” distractions at the mealtime (e.g., toys, TV, phones)?
  • Are you routinely skipping the bedtime snack?

Here’s what you can do

Depending on your troubleshooting responses, here are some suggestions:
– Stow your agenda for what and how much your child will eat. Her slow eating may be her way of putting off eating food she doesn’t want. 
– Provide a bedtime snack, even if it is just an hour after dinner. As Ellyn says, serve something “filling but not thrilling” (peanut butter crackers and milk, string cheese and fruit). If the slow eating changes, your child was concerned about having to go hungry through the night. 
– Build in one-on-one time for a couple of weeks. If the slow eating changes, the problem was that your child was using eating for attention seeking.
– With older kids, as much as you can, relax and enjoy their sociability. But an hour is really enough! 
– Verbally set a time limit “We have 30 minutes–45 minutes–an hour–for dinner.” Reassure children that snack time is coming soon. .
– Give everyone a 5 minute heads-up for the end of meal, then as a family put food away and tidy up. Remind children that it won’t be long before snack time.

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