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Getting Kids to Dinner is a Nightly Battle!

03/04/2015 12:10 am ET | Updated May 09, 2015
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Even though I work full-time and am a parenting on my own, when I come home at the end of the day, I try to make something tasty and healthy for my kids' dinner. The problem is, they really don't appreciate it. What's more, I practically have to drag them to the table. They would much rather watch TV or play games on their iPads. Help!

This complaint is one that I hear all the time. Parents make an effort to provide good food for their kids, only to have to negotiate with them to eat it. And yes, just getting them to the table can be a major battle. Here are my thoughts:

• Convene a meeting. When we come AT our children with rules and regulations, they instinctively resist. But when we enlist them in collectively addressing a problem by contributing possible solutions, they will also be more likely to adhere to agreements they took part in creating.

• Play the Three Yes's. In my books, I share a simple but powerful way of helping two people understand one another's positions when they don't see eye-to-eye. Simply put, it involves one person speaking for a couple of minutes about a hot topic, while the other listens without interrupting, disagreeing or correcting. (And no eye-rolling!) The listener then offers three points that they heard the speaker share, after which they switch roles. By doing a version of this with your kids, they can develop more empathy for what it's like when you put your heart into making food they hardly want to eat, and you may discover more about what fuels their resistance to coming to the table.

• Unplug 20 minutes before meal time. One of the biggest challenges that parents face in getting kids to the table is having to compete with the lure of the TV, smartphone, video game or iPad. If you consistently have to threaten to take away your children's devices to get them to the table, establish a ritual of unplugging all devices twenty minutes before the dinner bell rings. They may complain, but you can explain that if they'd like to have screen time before dinner, they will have to show you that they can come the first time they're called to resume pre-dinner screen time privilege.

• Become a sous chef. When kids are given the chance to be creative in the kitchen- - with a parent's support -- they can become quite enthusiastic about meal time. At the beginning of the week, let each of your kids plan a dinner menu and help you write up a shopping list. When it's their night to cook, let them take responsibility for at least one dish, depending on their age. Even a 4-year-old can cut carrots with a dinner knife, put them into the steamer pot, add butter or olive oil afterward and proudly share his creation with the family.

• Change the climate at the table. Many kids resist coming to dinner because it feels like a place filled with criticism and tension. Are you making mealtime a time to connect and download the events of the day in the presence of loved ones? Or are most of the interactions focused on correcting their posture or demanding that they take a certain number of bites before they can be excused? Make the atmosphere a positive and relaxing one, and they will be more naturally drawn to the table.

Don't give up! Having dinner with the family at least five times a week has been shown to significantly lower a teen's chance of drinking, smoking and using drugs, according to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Make family dinners a ritual in your family, and you will all be nourished, in more ways than one.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the upcoming, Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

To learn more about her online parenting courses and support, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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