Sitting at Supper

  • Situation

    My child is 5 years old and cannot sit through dinner with the family. He will jump up, come back take a few bites, if any bites at all, bang on the table, and sometimes just leave and play with his toys. We never have a peaceful family meal. Any suggestions?

  • Summary

    Engagement strategies to use before and during your dinner may help motivate your child to remain with the family and actually participate in the meal and conversation. These strategies include child choices and visual supports.

  • Definition

    Sitting at Supper Strategies are strategies a parent can implement easily with a minimal level of pre-planning. Creating a ‘Choice Menu’ with your child is the first step and providing a visual conversation game is the second step.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Ability to connect pictures or words with meaning, ability to make choices, some food preferences, ability to take turns when motivated

  • Process

    1. Decide on possible dinner/supper choices of foods that include items you know your child likes within each pair of choices. For example corn or peas; apple sauce or jello; hot dogs or eggs.

    2. Create a “Choice Menu that includes words and pictures of the items with a place to mark a ‘check’ next to each item.

    3. Tell your child you need him to plan the evening’s meal. Allow him to choose the items, gather each item, and organize them in the kitchen. If possible have him assist in the cooking.

    4. Locate 3 containers to place on your table such as cups or cans that can hold Popsicle sticks or even strips of paper. One container says “First Turn to Talk”, the 2nd container says “Second Turn to Talk”, and the Third will say “All Done”.

    5. Your child can help to decorate each container with stickers, glued items, or crayons.

    6. Place one name of each person in your family on each stick or paper strip.

    7. Now you are ready for dinner. Place the containers on the table in a row. Have your child show the Menu to the family announcing that he planned it.

    8. After everyone is served tell the family you are playing a game and [child’s name] will be in charge of helping with the game. The game begins after everyone takes two bites of dinner.

    9. Have your child remove a stick from the first container. He should say the name (if unable to read have a small photo or drawing). That person gets a turn to tell something to the family. Once the family member shares a fact, story, or something that happened that day, the child places in the 2nd container.

    10. In between each turn the rule is to take two bites and eat slowly before another turn.

    11. This continues until the 2nd container is filled then begin again placing the sticks into the 3rd container.

    12. Once the 3rd container is filled the child can continue eating or ‘be finished’.

    13. If your child has a special interest or character, place an image on the menu and/or on the containers.

    14. Check out the Answer – Seat Sheet and Collector Cards on this site for another strategy that might help with sitting at the table.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Visuals Sitting at Supper (PDF)



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