Whining and Dining—Why is Dinner Time so Hard?

  • I have a confession: I HATE dinner time. I love cooking, but hate sitting down and making kids eat. It always becomes a struggle to get my kids to sit still, eat their dinners, and not whine or yell at the table. How do you handle dinner time? Is there a better way or am I doomed to hate dinner time forever? --Bonnie, Strongmoms facilitator

  • Is it that they are bickering with eachother, or tired maybe?... or do they just not want what you have made? If they don't want to eat there are a couple easy ways to tame the problem if not solve it.

    1. Let the kids have input on dinner. Wether it is a side dish, vegetable, main course, or the whole dinner, let each of your children take turns with the dinner selection. That may get them a little more excited about eating it.

    2. Let them help make the dinner. Studies have shown that children who help with food preperation are more likely to eat their meals. And to make it easier on you maybe choose one or two children a night to help. That way they don't feel like dinner is a  chore and you don't have so many little ones to keep track of in the kitchen.

    3. If they don't want to eat the meal don't make them. It was always a rule in my house growing up that you did not have to eat if you did not want to, but you could not have desert, or a snack to hold you over until breakfast. You don't want to eat you get to feel what it's like to be hungry. at some point reason will kick in and your children will realize it's better to eat something they don't love than have their tummies grumbling all night.


    If they are bickering at the table then maybe it would help to have a "talking stick". The stick is passed around the table and only the persn who has it can talk. Hopefully it wil help the children learn not to talk over , and interrupt one another and to wait their turn to speak. Otherwise maybe a reward system for good behavior at the dinner table like a sticker chart with all the childrens names on it. Each child is graded on their behavior at the dinner table and if they are bad they have to put a red star next to their name. If they are good then they get to put a gold star next to their name. after so many gold stars then maybe they get a reward like a special desert or toy... It may even help to take a photo of the toy and post it up at the end of the chart as incentive.

  • There are just so many of them! LOL! They all want to talk to my husband and me and each other;.....so it gets loud and then the 3 year old constantly gets up. It seems like dinner is just so chaotic and I don't know what to do to make it better!

  • Sharing your big family, I can empathize. We have stuck with our policy of having the kids eat what is served. Sometimes when we know dinner is going to be late or delayed, we make make a dinner for the kids, then my wife and I eat a second dinner alone... we need the quality time too! We never force the kids to eat the dinner or clear their plate, although we do make them eat their protein or veggie before a second helping of carbs/starch. If they choose not to eat, then so be it but there is no food until the next day. Our philosophy is if they are hungry, they will eat. That being said, despite the stress, we love dinner time. One discussion starter is that we do "highs and Lows." Where each member of the family tells about the high and low points of their day. This works pretty well in prying some information from them! 

  • I agree with the others that a bit more structure might be helpful.  One thing might be that each child is only allowed to get up from the table 1x during dinner.  Another idea might be to have some sort of table game soon that everyone is kind of on the same page, so to speak.  

    Let us know how the new dinner time tactics workout!


  • Well unfortunately, the only thing that seems to work is that my husband doesn't eat with us! LOL! When he works late, dinner time is peaceful...but when he is here it is chaotic. Now, it isn't his fault...its just that the kids are SOOOOO excited to see him that they all want to talk to him and get his attention and that leads to interruptions and craziness. Not sure how we can all eat together....

  • Have you tried a talking stick? Or in this case it may be more appropriate to have a talking spoon (Wooden).. Maybe let the kids know that for now on durring dinner you will have a talking spoon and whoever is holding the spoon is the child who is allowed to share what they want. Let them know that each child will get a turn to hold the spoon and each night a different child will get to hold it first... it may even be fun getting them involved in decorating their special spoon. Hopefully something like this will help them learn to take turns and not interrupt.

  • I LOVE the "talking stick" Brinny.  I haven't used it at dinner, but we used to use it at Family meetings when I was little.  Do others have experience with this?