How to Stop Fighting at the Table

In today’s episode, Laura reads a letter from a reader who is struggling with dinnertime battles. She talks through the letter line by line to analyze what went wrong and what choices parents can make to help eliminate dinner time fights and have a more peaceful family mealtime. After listening to this podcast you can change how things go at your house and immediately transform your mealtimes one day at a time.

This episode is brought to you by Happier Plates, my digital course for parents who want to teach their kids healthy eating habits for life. 

Download a free copy of our Mealtime Handbook, the Ultimate Guide to Feeding Happy Kids here.

And if you’re tired of figuring out what to make for dinner, consider becoming a member of the MOMables Meal Plans. With 5 done-for-you recipes, a meal-prep sheet to save you time, and a done-for-you shopping list; you’ll have everything you need to pull off fresh meals every day of the week! Check out the Classic Meal Plan here.

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Earlier this week I got an email from someone in the MOMables community. I got goosebumps reading this email because I could have written it myself a few years ago.

Andrea is just one mom, but I think most of us can relate to her story and picture the exact same thing playing out at our own mealtimes.

Here’s what Andrea said:

If you can’t read the text, in the image, you can find it below too:

This was my experience today. I ended up “winning” but I felt like we lost as a family.

I gave my son two small broccoli bites covered in cheese. He was told to eat them. The rest of the family finished eating and this happened:

Son: (screaming) I WILL NOT EAT THAT!

Me: you will not eat anything else until you eat those two small bites.

Son: I WILL NOT EAT THAT!

Me: ok, I’m making pancakes in the morning. (That’s his favorite). You can’t have any unless you eat those two bites.

Son: I WILL EAT AT SCHOOL!

Daughter whispers in my ear: It’s true mom. They will make him eat.

I wink at my daughter.

Me: I will go buy your favorite fast food and come have lunch with you. I will also bring these two bites of broccoli with me. You can either eat them and enjoy your lunch or not and go to your next class without food!

I turn to leave to go out on the patio.

Son: you are starving me!

Me: No, starving is depriving you of food. I have provided you with cheese-covered broccoli. You are starving yourself.

I walk outside. . . Lots of yelling inside. . . put the tv on and sit.

About 15 minutes later

Son: opens the door to the patio, shows me the empty plate and says “I want chickfila”, then closes the door.

I win. but I feel awful.

We don’t know all the details, how old this child is or what else happened at the table that night, but I know I could see myself and my kids a few years ago in this email.

There are so many things that could have gone differently at that diner table, but let’s focus on a few of them that could have turned the whole evening around.

Allow the child to serve themselves

Many times kids get angry at the table because they are struggling for power and trying to assert themselves. Remember, we want mealtime to be a positive time for the whole family, so allowing a child to select which items from the meal they’d like to eat is a great way to avoid many of these issues up front.

Never allow your child to raise their voice at the table

I’m a mom, I have three kids – I totally understand tantrums. All of my kids have gone through tantrums at some time or another.

But yelling at the table is not the same thing as a tantrum. In the Happier Plates Masterclass, we go in-depth about how to establish better boundaries at the dinner table and create an atmosphere of respect and positivity. This starts with not allowing any yelling to happen at the table.

Kids can decline foods, or politely say “no thank you” but they must know that yelling will never be tolerated.

Never use something special as a reward for bad behavior

We’ve talked about establishing a no-bribes boundary in the past but this is a big one! Never use something special, like meeting your child for lunch at school, as a reward for behaving poorly the night before at the dinner table.

When a child is acting out at the table, they are asking for our attention. Sometimes, we accidentally reward this behavior by offering a special treat or one-on-one time if they’ll only take a bite of the hated vegetable.

While we might get a bite or two out of them this time, this actually encourages the child to keep rejecting foods so they can see what you might offer them next time.

Instead of offering rewards, simply make the child aware of what foods are available for the family to eat that evening and let them choose what they would like to have from what is one the table.

In order to change what’s happening at the dinner table, we can’t change them, we can only change ourselves.

It’s up to us to end the power struggle and refuse to engage when kids are behaving in a way that is not tolerated.

Many times, it’s not about the broccoli at all. Kids are trying to gain back some control and we can’t give in to their behavior by trying to fight back or win the argument. As the leader at the table, it’s up to you to set the tone, so simply state your expectations and don’t allow the child to continue to fight or scream at you.

If needed, the child can be asked to leave the table, but as the adult, you should not be the one to step away.

Are you ready to hear more? Click the podcast above to hear a full break down, line by line of this conversation and I’ll even read aloud another version of the letter – how things should go next time.

Happier Plates will equip you to hand the table with picky eaters with the dignity and respect that you deserve as a parent. See more here.

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About MOMables - Laura

Mom to 3 kids, obsessed with coffee, meal planning, and helping you cook fresh meals for your family fast!