One source of stress in our house is the dinner table. Well, ok, not literally the table exactly, but the pace with which the kids eat at the dinner table.
Two of the three kids would regularly take upwards of 30 minutes to go from start to finish and would require constant prodding and reminding to stop talking and eat their food. When we got tired of nagging and waiting for them to finish, there would be drama around taking their food away.
The whole thing turned into a power-play between us and the kids and I wanted to find a way to stop playing that game. The idea occurred to me to set a timer on my phone and let the kids know that they had 30 minutes to eat and when the timer sounded, whatever was left would get taken away. The problem with that plan is that numbers ticking on a phone don't convey any sense of meaning or urgency to a kid that can't read a digital clock or relate numbers on a screen to the passing of time.
I needed a way to communicate the passage of time and the approaching deadline to a 3 year-old. It had to be simple, easy to manage, easy to reference and effective. Enter, the food clock.
Even a 3 year-old can grasp the concept that the hands move slowly and when the big hand gets to the 6, then it's time to be done.
I jumped on Amazon and found the largest, simplest analog clock that I could find. When it arrived, Katie figured out a way to color code the clock face so that the kids could learn and understand that they were running out of time.
I built a simple stand out of Duplos and now the clock sits at the end of the table where everyone can see it. We have to manually reset it after each meal and we pop the battery in and out to start and stop it which is kind of a pain, but well worth it.
The kids have become so invested in the idea that now they argue over who gets to start, stop, and reset the clock. It's also freed Katie and I (ok, mostly Katie) from the role of task master with trying to convince the kids to "take a bite!" Now, if we notice that they're busy chatting instead of eating, we just calmly point at the clock and they get after it.
We did have a couple instances where 30 minutes expired and there was still food on the plate. In those instances, we held the line and explained that they chose to goof around instead of eat and they ran out of time so their food was going away. After these first couple drama sessions, however, subsequent instances where time expired were met with disappointment, but not resistance.
Overall, the food clock has been a huge success. Stress at the dinner table has been significantly reduced and the kids are developing a sense of agency, self-determination and consequences. If they choose to goof around and they run out of time, then their food goes away. If they choose to focus on eating, then they get to eat all their food. It's not an angry mom and dad taking their food away anymore.