The following came from a Boston.com reader Q&A with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz:
Question: My daughter is turning 3 in one week and she sometimes just will not eat. She will drag out dinner time to last a whole hour and still has barely eaten anything. We would like to start setting a time limit on dinner and if she hasn't finished her meal in that time, we will take it away from her and that's the end of dinner. So, is this a good idea, and if so, what is a decent amount of time to let a 2-3 year old sit down and eat dinner?
Barbara Meltz: Kristen, It's admirable -- and by all accounts, important -- to have family dinner time. But it's also a lot to expect children this age to sit still for a meal. Part of why she lets it drag on is because she can. What I mean is that kids this age love to have a sense of control and power; it's something they experiment with in all kinds of ways.
They also love to be the center of your attention even when it turns to negative attention. So she's seen that she has the power to get your attention by dragging out mealtime and, oh, by the way, by not eating. My advice is to put a healthy meal on the table, making sure to include something you know she likes at each meal but not to cater unduly to her finicky tastes.
Then have a mealtime together than includes pleasant conversation among all of you, but try hard not to focus on what she is or isn't eating. When you are finished and a reasonable period of time has passed, dinner is over. I wouldn't put a set amount of time to it. It may vary from meal to meal and that feels a little too artificial to me.
When you start to clean up, she will protest. Tell her simply, "Well, we have other things to do now. Do you want to help me?"
Give her a job to do that will feel valuable and fun for her, but be clear that the meal is over. She will likiely insist she's still hungry. You know that is not real, right? So you can safely tell her that tomorrow night, she can eat more. Be matter of fact, be NICE, and be consistent, day after day.
Here's the other thing I suggest: find some way during the course of your day/evening to create Mom/child time together that you label as "Mom & K's time." Make is sacred: nothing interrupts you, not the cell, not another child, not the computer. Five minutes is plenty. Give her a choice of a few activities to do together, ones you know she will enjoy.
If you're a working mom and she's in daycare, I recommend doing this when you first get home. The point is that she sees that she has unimpeded access to you where she has your undivided attention. With any luck, that will cut down on her need to control the dinner time. And if dad can do the same thing, so much the better.
Agree with Barbara's advice? Have some of your own? Let us know in our comments section below.