'Your kid eats like a pig!'
Some ‘bad parenting’ can be as a result of the home circumstances, suggests Karen.
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As you may have noticed Parent24 recently conducted the Kids Nation Survey. There were a lot of issues that came out of this survey but for me the one thing that stood out the most was that of family eating habits, especially the fact that families don’t seem to share a meal together anymore.

Now I understand that some families just don’t have the time to sit down for an hour at night and share a meal and so it has become very much a meal on the run. Or a pick-up on the way home from work/school. I also understand that space constraints for people who live in small houses/apartment don’t allow for a dining room table to sit down and share a meal. But what you need to know is what gets lost by not sharing a meal with your children.

A few years ago I had a student who always left his eating space in a mess- crumbs everywhere, and bits of food on the floor around him. I realise that I teach preschool and this is normal for a kid his age to make a mess, but his mess was always messier than the rest. So one day I watched him while he ate to see what exactly was causing him to be such a messy eater. I was astounded by what I saw. He would take both his sandwiches, put them on top of each other and literally stuff his mouth so full that half the food would drop out. He seemed to do this with everything he ate and he chewed with his mouth open because it was so stuffed he could not close it.  

I decided to have a chat with his mom about his ‘table manners’  Luckily for me, this was a parent with whom I could be frank (I love those) and not have to find diplomatic ways of broaching a delicate subject. I told her that her son eats like a pig- okay, I didn’t actually use the word ‘pig’- but she got the idea.

Where was the ball dropped?

She was flabbergasted, she had no idea. How could she; they had never shared a meal together as a family. She explained to me that her and her husband lived in a tiny two bedroom apartment with their two sons sharing a room. Their lounge and kitchen area was open-plan with a small lounge area that was not big enough for a dining room table and a kitchen that was desperately short of counter space. Her boys would eat dinner on their laps in front of the TV. No judgement here, my kids have done that too. The issue was not that they were eating in front of the TV or on their laps; the issue was that the children ate around 6pm on their own while mom cleaned the kitchen. Then they would hop in the bath when dad came home around 6:30 and this would give mom and dad half an hour to quickly share their meal on the only sofa they had before doing the bedtime routine. Weekends were pretty much the same and so she had no idea that her son did not know how to eat properly.

Sometimes as parents we forget that certain kids need to be taught things that others just know instinctively. This was one such case, in which a child actually needed to be taught how to eat properly and have manners. This was not bad parenting but simply a case of circumstances.

Tips for busy parents for encouraging good mealtime manners

You could:

•    Observe your child eating in different contexts with different kinds of food
•    Provide helpful encouragement rather than threats or punishment
•    Assist with food that is difficult to eat such as meat which needs cutting up
•    Ask your child to help tidy up after the meal
•    Don’t stress! It can take a long time to develop good mealtime habits

Have you ever overlooked some important parenting detail?

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