Friday, October 23, 2015

How to Get Fidgety Kids to Sit Still at Mealtimes

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Meal times in our house have been a struggle for a long time.

During a typical meal time, whether it is breakfast or lunch or supper, I will have repeated myself to the point of exhaustion:

Sit on your bum.

Sit on your chair while you eat.

Come back to the table to eat.

Where are you going? It's suppertime.

My tone gradually becoming more terse with each plea. More frank. More frustrated. Whiny, even.

But perhaps the most frustrating part of all was dealing with the acrobatic feats that occurred on my children's chairs. I was tired of eating with upside down children and holding conversations with their flailing limbs. The constant grazing, walking to and from the table to take a nibble of this and then a nibble of that, was driving me crazy.

Was five minutes of non-squirmy children sitting on their bums to eat the dinner I so graciously cooked really too much to ask?

Apparently so.

But I am not one to be easily defeated.

Get your fidgety kids to sit still at mealtimes with this one practical tip from And Next Comes L

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Why Sitting at Mealtime is Important to Us

Just to be clear, encouraging my children to sit during mealtimes isn't about obedience. 

It's about finding time each day to connect and bond. It is about fostering healthy relationships with the people we love.

See, I grew up in a small town, living just a few blocks from school. So I was able to go home for lunch everyday and have supper everyday with my entire family. Those mealtimes were a way for us to connect and enjoy each other's company. I have always wanted that for my family as well, especially in this digital age where we get sucked into our electronic devices and maintain a ridiculous busy lifestyle. So yes, sitting together as a family at mealtimes is important to me. It's an important way for us to slow down and connect every single day.

Furthermore, sitting at mealtimes is important from a safety perspective. My children were literally hanging upside down while chewing their food. I may as well hand them some uncut grapes while they jump on the trampoline. I need them to sit on their bums, at least while they eat, so that they will be safe.

Things That Didn't Work

My oldest son has autism and sensory issues, so he rarely sits still to begin with, but there had to be something that would encourage him to sit at the dinner table.

We tried visual cues like a timer. He likes numbers so in theory, it should have worked. Instead, it stressed him out and then he started playing with timer until it broke. Fail #1.

So we tried a social story. Social stories always seem to work for him, but it didn't this time. Fail #2.

We have tried verbal prompts over and over. Of course, understanding verbal demands are challenging for him due to his hyperlexia. Fail #3.

We have even tried a little game, which worked wonders for a different mealtime issue, but did little to help him sit and eat his supper for any period of time. Fail #4.

Rethinking Our Mealtime Struggles

I know my son needs to wiggle and move, so I knew that that was going to be the key to successfully ending our mealtime woes. I needed to tap into his wiggly nature and find a solution that would allow him to squirm, but keep him seated long enough to eat his meal without me losing my voice to my constant pleas.

We tried out our stretchy resistance bands on his chair with minimal success. It really only worked for the first day, but failed to provide him the sensory input that he required on subsequent tries.

Then one day when I was picking him up from school, I spotted him sitting on the Hokki wobble stool that he has in his classroom. But what I really saw was a child, sitting on his bum intensely focused on his work. He looked calm. He looked still. He looked almost peaceful. I was overcome with pride that my son was able to control his body in such a peaceful manner and it was definitely a light bulb moment for me.

I knew that I needed to provide that exact same sensory input at home.

But those stools are $120+ to buy.

There had to be a more affordable option that would work for this scenario. Then I recalled my days of working as a nanny for a boy who had sensory processing disorder. He had a bright blue slanted wedge cushion to sit on at school and at home. Why hadn't I thought of that before?

But again, those wedge cushions aren't cheap either.

So I started exploring other options that were similar in design, but perhaps weren't marked as an occupational therapy tool or sensory tool, until I found the perfect compromise.

And I did.

But more importantly, it has revolutionized our mealtimes. He sits for long periods of time and eats his supper. I no longer have to eat alongside those acrobatic gymnasts who loop their legs around the table's wooden frame or who dangle their bodies sideways and upside down on their chair. I no longer have to see patterned socks fluttering back and forth in the air. Instead, I see my children's beautiful faces, smeared with sweet and sour sauce or a pink-hued smoothie mustache. I get to actually hold conversations with them while they eat and my husband and I finally get to relax, even just for a few minutes, without having to remind the children to sit on their bums.

How We Got Our Kids to Stay Seated at Mealtimes

Now this idea itself isn't revolutionary by any means, but it has made a huge difference in our daily life. And I know others may be in the same situation as us, especially if you have fidgety, sensory seeking kids like my son. So you may be searching for a quick, practical solution to your mealtime woes and this tip may be just what you need.

The answer: a balance cushion.

Using a balance cushion to help fidgety kids sit still during mealtimes from And Next Comes L

This balance cushion provides the exact sensory input he needs, letting him wiggle and squirm all he wants, while staying seated in his chair and eating his meals. It worked from day one and has continued to work since then.

Using a balance cushion to help fidgety kids sit still during mealtimes from And Next Comes L

Not only did we end our mealtime battles, but we did it without spending a lot of money. The balance cushion cost us less than $20 CAD versus the $35-45+ we would have spent on a sensory cushion (likely more like $50+ here in Canada because there are so few places to actually buy these kinds of sensory tools from) or the $120+ on a wobble stool.

Now to tackle the next mealtime hurdle: encouraging the kids to try new foods.

Hahaha...good luck, right?