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Independent Living Skills

Mealtimes routines – ideas to help

Sitting together for mealtimes provides a safe environment for the child to practise social skills such as talking about their day, and what they are eating and turn-taking. 

Ideas to Help

Try to be realistic about how long the child can sit still (around child’s age x 2 = minutes sitting at a table e.g. 5 years x 2 = 10 minutes sitting). It’s better for the child to sit well for 10 minutes and be praised for this, and then gradually building up the time they can stay rather than running around during the whole meal and disrupting this for everyone else as well.

Allow the child to get up and move around between the main meal and dessert if they become restless.

Encourage the child to lay the table, or to get out the ‘right’ amount of cutlery for the number of people eating.

Call the child to the table only when the food is being served.

 Switch off the television to allow the child to concentrate on mealtimes.

Try to involve the child in the conversation or they may lose concentration. Ideas, for example, could be to have a family quiz, asking each child to tell a joke, or discuss their favourite TV programme, film or computer game they are playing.  

Where to start

This section explains the different aspects of mealtime skills in more detail and presents ideas about how to teach the skills successfully.

A good sitting position allows the child

To be stable, so that arms are free to use cutlery.

To be comfortable and so remain at the table for longer.

To be able to concentrate on eating (rather than concentrating on balancing on the chair).

Opportunities to practise social interactions in a ‘safe’ environment.

 If the child’s feet are not able to reach the floor, then place a box or telephone book under their feet so that he/she can sit in a stable position.

 Recommended seating position:

If the height of the table is too high, place the child on a booster seat or firm cushion or use an adjustable height chair e.g. Tripp Trapp Chair (available from www.backinaction.co.uk or http://www.lullabys.co.uk/).everything is ready so that he or she doesn’t have to wait too long to eat, lose concentration and become fidgety.

Check the child’s back is supported by the back of the chair.

Use a firm cushion behind their back if they are too far away.