First, don’t worry. A mealtime tantrum is a behaviour like any other that you can deal with in the same way that you would respond to any behaviour.
If you would use time-out in that situation, then it’s appropriate to use time out at mealtimes as well.
It might seem like bad timing for time-out as your meal will go cold and you’ll probably fall behind on the bedtime routine, BUT by not giving in and being consistent with your response over a couple of weeks, you are likely to find you will be able to end mealtime tantrums FOREVER.
The key is to be clear about rules, expectations and consequences. If your child knows that a tantrum at mealtimes will result in time-out and missing out on family time at the dinner table, they will eventually learn to make more positive decisions about their behaviour. Take a moment as a family to talk about it and agree on mealtime rules.
When a tantrum starts, first, use a warning. Give your child an opportunity to correct their behaviour with a positive message, for example you could say, ‘Remember, we said we would sit nicely and speak calmly at the table? Is there something you want to tell me?’. Teach your child better ways to communicate, and let them know you will listen.
To replace tantrums, children need to be encouraged to express themselves and use their words. Your child can talk about what they are thinking and feeling, but they must learn to do it respectfully, and in a calm and relaxed way. Remind your child that you expect a positive attitude, and that it’s okay to talk about it. Tell them that if something is wrong, you will try to help them. You can ask your child what is wrong or whether there is something they would like to say. You can ask them if they need help.
If you child is throwing a tantrum, calmly ask your child to step away from the kitchen for a few minutes (you may have a special place that you use at home when your child can take some time-out). Once they have calmed down (and you can even offer a cuddle to help them do so), sit with them and talk about their behaviour. Remind them of the mealtime rules, give them a cuddle, ask them to come back to the table and try again.
Don’t forget about creating positive mealtimes. Simple tricks like engaging with your child during mealtimes and praising their good behaviour can often prevent mealtime tantrums. Praise your child for their lovely table manners when they are behaving nicely or for helping you set the table. Kids love to be praised! The more enjoyable meals are, the least fuss you will encounter. Playing a word game or telling a story can also help everyone feel happy and relaxed while you eat.