Humans eat at different speeds. It’s natural. But there are two types of slow-eating children:
Type 1: The ones who are just naturally slow. These will naturally speed up with age to reach an acceptable speed.
Type 2: The ones who are deliberately dawdling over their meal and dragging their feet! Why?
Because they’ve realized it’s another way to get attention and power!
And beware: If the naturally slow eater sees that slow eating gets them power and attention, they may start eating even more slowly!
So in either case, the approach to take is the same.
First of all, never call them a slow eater!
Research shows that children live up to labels and expectations. If you call your child a “slow eater”, they’ll take that label and run with it!
And don’t pester them to eat faster!
“Hurry up…. We’re all waiting for you… Come on, everyone else finished ages ago… Shall I feed you?” These kind of comments simply reward your child with attention for eating slowly and put them in a very powerful position: They show your child they can annoy you with it, make you wait – and maybe even get you to feed them! They might respond to your comments by speeding up in the moment, but overall it will make the problem worse, not better!
So what about setting a time limit?
This is definitely not a good idea! Never set a timer or say things like “You’ve got five more minutes and then I’m taking it away.” If your child is a naturally slow eater, that’s not fair. If your child is a deliberate dawdler, you’re rewarding them with attention for slow eating again! And in both cases, you will be taking away the opportunity for them to eat more of their meal and creating a pressurized, punitive atmosphere around food and mealtimes – which is the last thing you want to do!
Instead, leave their meal on the table at the end
Wait until mealtime has reached a natural end – either after a reasonable amount of time has elapsed (20-30 minutes) if your child is eating on their own, or when everyone else has finished eating as much as they are going to eat if you’re eating together. Then get down from the table and allow them to get down too (if they want to). But:
Casually say “I’ll just leave your lunch/dinner here in case you want more later” and leave it on the table for 30 or so minutes.
They can then revisit it at their leisure if they want to. If they choose instead to stay at the table longer and keep eating, still get down yourself. Don’t sit with them as this will encourage them to be a slow eater to keep you there and get your attention!
Don’t expect them to revisit their meal. They might, but that’s not what this technique is about. It’s about setting an appropriate timeframe for a meal – and showing them that no attention or power is available by eating slowly and making the meal last longer than that.
Take this approach consistently and the naturally slow eater will gradually speed up with age – and the deliberate dawdler will gradually start shifting towards eating their meals within an appropriate timeframe! 😀