In last week's guest post from TwinToddlersDad he wrote about some of his family's struggles applying Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding. One of the struggles involved managing TV time for his children with dinner time for the family.
It reminded me of some of my own struggles with my oldest child, who is now in high school, back when she was a toddler. Dinners together as a family did not come so easy back then. During the week, the "family" was often just me and her. Sometimes I might eat with her, sometimes I would wait for my husband to come home. But we definitely did not have a consistent routine of the three of us sitting down together at the same table for dinner. It became much easier somehow with a second child two years later. Suddenly, it seemed more like a family meal to me.
How does the saying go, "if I only knew then what I know now." Well, I did not know about the division of responsibility back when my oldest was a toddler. Even without that knowledge, I think I did fairly well with providing the structure of when she ate and I was okay with making choices about what she ate. But I let the ball drop with the "where." She would often eat standing up at her little plastic desk in our living room. She was not then, and is not still, a child who can stay still for very long. Letting her stand and walk around the room and come back for her food didn't seem like such a bad idea at the time. But in retrospect, I know that I didn't provide her with much opportunity to learn how to sit at the table.
She would often watch videos while she was eating or snacking. She was adorable as she danced around in between bites. I'm happy to say that she can now sit for a meal at the table. So those early years did not do irreparable damage with setting up a bad pattern for where she ate. But I could have saved myself and my daughter from some of our battles around mealtimes if I had done it differently from the start.
The TV has not been on during mealtimes for a long time in our house. My husband and I are very comfortable in our authority to turn the TV off. And most of the time now, the kids are pretty accepting of that. Now that they're older, we seem to be past the stage of fearing a meltdown. Well, at least the meltdowns are different ~ and not likely to be brought on by turning off the TV. But I remember that fear. It's a powerful feeling. As TwinToddlersDad said, sometimes "you can't resist anymore and give in." What I've found with all aspects of parenting, an overall pattern of consistency is vitally important, but no one is perfect, and sometimes rules are bent and patterns are changed. If the overall pattern is well-established, with most children, occasional variants in the pattern will not "ruin" all that you've previously established.
Last month I was interviewed for the blog, yourfamilyviewer.com on the practice of watching TV during family meals. Studies have shown that the benefits of family meals can still take place even if the TV is on, but I don't recommend it as a regular practice. As I said in that interview, television can be a distraction and barrier to tuning into, connecting with, and talking to the people with whom you are eating.
What do you think? How do you manage TV with your children and with your mealtimes?