A Nice, Quiet Dinner for Four
How do you help a hyperactive child stay in her seat, or calm excessive talking at the table? This mom’s trick for managing mealtimes for kids with attention deficit: stimulate their senses.
I’m a big-time foodie, and I love to cook — as long as I’m not handcuffed by those weird things called recipes. The only problem I have with cooking is that it leads to the family sitting at the table and eating. I know that’s the goal — family time and all that business — but if I’m going to be honest, dinnertime at the Turis Circus stinks.
The madness starts as soon as we sit down and lasts for what seems like hours. My husband and I usually finish up in 10 minutes. Wham bam, in goes the yam. The kids draw it out.
My six-year old son is the talker of the family. He gets that from his dad. He never stops yipping and yapping, which is counterproductive to putting food in his mouth. My husband and I try to toss some peas in there when he takes a breath.
My daughter can’t keep her hiney in the seat. She has every excuse in the world to flit around the kitchen, so she doesn’t have to be held prisoner at the table. You can tell there’s no thought process behind it. She will be mid-bite, then launch herself out of her chair as if she were sitting on a loaded spring before landing in front of the fridge to get something out that we don’t need. Gee, thanks for asking, honey, but I’m not sure jelly goes with hummus. Now go sit down!
Once, out of frustration, I tied her to the chair with a rope from the laundry room. It worked! She stayed in her seat and enjoyed the added “structure,” but it looked sadistic, especially because our dinner table faces a big window. Since I wasn’t sure what the neighbors would think about my rope trick, I made it my mission to resolve the dinnertime blues.
Here are some tips that work for my kids:
Twenty minutes before sitting down to dinner, turn on the music and let the rug rats go all Solid Gold in the living room. Encourage them to dance their ants right out of their pants!
Squeeze their arms and legs, and give them some deep-pressure hugs. It activates their proprioceptors, which inform the brain where the body is in relation to space. The brain likes that, and tells the body it’s OK to calm down.
Have them “wheelbarrow-walk” all the way to the dinner table. This is called heavy work, and it does a great job of massaging the nervous system.
Give them a little fidget toy to fool with at the table. If a toy is too distracting, let them roll a piece of broccoli around in their fingers while they eat.
Get rid of the chair and let them sit on an exercise ball. Having to balance themselves keeps their mind on staying on the ball instead of launching from it.
Apply the heavy work idea to the foods they’re eating. Give them chewy or crunchy items that take some effort to get down.
Let them drink through a straw. The pressure it creates in their mouth and cheeks soothes their pepped-up nervous system.
I don’t always remember to implement these handy little tips, but when I do, I see glimpses of those non-ADHD family dinners people are always going on about.
Stacey Turis is the author of Here’s to Not Catching Our Hair on Fire: An Absent-Minded Tale of Life with Giftedness & Attention Deficit-Oh Look! A Chicken! (Bohemian Avenue Press).
Updated on April 12, 2019