Mealtime in the Second Plane: 6-12
Peaceful family dinners during the Age of Rudeness? Yes, it's possible. But just as bedtime had to change to accommodate the needs of a different plane of development so does mealtime. Children are now far more independent, more social and more scattered. And they may be exploring the limits of the rules they followed without question earlier.
Expect that your children will be more talkative and more energetic during mealtimes than they may have been earlier. The social drive is strong in the Second Plane, and there's no better place than across the table to be able to explore it. Meet this need by remembering that every member of your family deserves a voice at the table. While you may want to connect with other adults during dinner, you'll have less to redirect if you keep the conversation at family time focused on topics that involve the whole family.
Expect that your children may seem insatiable in their appetites. The Second Plane is a time of great physical growth. These bodies are changing and growing rapidly, and they need food to do it! Offer them healthy options, whole grains, vegetables, fresh fruits and natural proteins. Start the day with a healthy and hearty breakfast that includes both long-lasting and short-term fuels, proteins, fruits and grains. Offer a sturdy lunch, and let dinner be the lightest meal of the day.
Expect that your children will test the boundaries of mealtime behavior, trying out rude noises and saucy jokes to see your reaction. Avoid feeding it. Simply remind your child, "At the table, you can contribute politely," but try not to lose your cool. If you're going into a setting where the stakes might be higher for impolite behavior, talk with your child before you get there and ask them to tell you what they think appropriate table manners would look like there. Practice together and enlist their support; the rude behaviors typical for this age are less important to them than the feeling that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Remind them that your family is on the same team, and that you can work together to make outings more enjoyable for everyone.
Expect that your children will seek real engagement. Children know the difference between the tasks they've been given to keep them busy and the ones that actually make a difference for the family. This is a great age for children to pack their own lunches from scratch, and a totally reasonable time for children to be responsible for two or three full meals for the family each week. Let them create the menu for dinner, build a shopping list, budget for the meal, prepare it and clean it up. These are beneficial skills that will speak to their need for independence, while modeling for children that all members of a family pitch in together to care for each other.
Finally, expect that mastery takes time. Keep calm, even when you're hungry and tired. Model moving slowly during stressful times to avoid reacting to the stress. Let your children demonstrate that they're ready for a new challenge before you expect too much, but let them move swiftly to the level of independence and agency they are capable of (even if it's a little messier than you'd do yourself.) If you stay involved and engaged as well, these mealtimes will be strengthen your family's time together.
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