Dinner table activities that aren’t a tablet

By Sara Hanau | June 7, 2019
Dinner table activities that aren’t a tablet

By Sara Hanau, a contributing writer for Sharp Health News and a senior digital producer for Sharp HealthCare.

I am the mom in restaurants who gives her child a tablet. He sits there, eyes glued to Nickelodeon, silently shaming me for poor parenting. But "silently" is the optimal word.
I know it's wrong. And I have a legion of mom friends who pat me on the back and tell me it's OK. Because after a long week and a thousand toddler negotiations, sometimes I just want a slice of pizza, and a little silence.
I'm familiar with the studies and statistics. Too much screen time can lead to poor school performance, physical laziness and ADHD-type behavior issues. Screens at the table can disrupt my child's relationship with healthy eating practices, and rob us of the opportunity to communicate and connect.
But here's the thing: I'm human. And until the American Academy of Pediatrics adds a stress caveat to their
screen time guidelines, you just might see me, once in a while, ignoring the judgmental stares.
However, I have committed to trying other things. Plenty of parents find good old-fashioned, screen-free activities to occupy their kids while they eat. And according to
Dr. Maria Gray, a board-certified
pediatrician with
Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, forging through the whining will eventually work in my favor.
"If a child knows her bad behavior will result in a tablet, why
wouldn't she act out to get it? It's a hard habit to break, but once you engage your child in other activities, like fun games or conversations she can contribute to, meals will be less of a screaming match and more of a bonding experience."
So, here goes. Below are five table activities I'll be trying this month. If you're a tablet-at-the-table type parent, try them with me. And if they don't work, let's invest in dual headphones, and go grab a slice of pizza.

  1. Pack a "restaurant kit"
    Having a travel kit of contained games and crafts is a good way to keep kids entertained in a pinch. But the trick is making it special. Fill the kit with goodies your kids can't play with every day - stuff they only see when you're dining out. This builds intrigue and helps them look forward to their time at the table.

  2. Reinvent the tablecloth
    A paper place mat and a box of crayons can only go so far. Especially because they're only intended for
    your child. Instead of putting your child in a creative silo, ask for a stack of paper mats and a few extra crayons and pass them around. Involving everyone at the table helps your child feel like they're part of something bigger. And, hey, they make adult coloring books for a reason.

  3. Start scrapping
    Your kids are part of the digital photo age. Which means they probably don't have tangible proof of their existence. Fix that, and add a little fun to your family dinner, by bringing a stack of family photos to the table. Make sure you bring a range of ages. And to up the ante, bring a small scrapbook and a couple of glue sticks to create something they can take home.

  4. Get wordy
    Never underestimate the power of a good word game. They fill the silence and (gasp!) can be educational. Some good ones are: I Spy; Finish This Sentence; Would You Rather; 20 Questions; Two Truths, One Lie; Charades; and I Went to Market. For older kids, break out the Mad Libs and relive the humor that was your youth.

  5. Do (your) homework
    Even the quietest kid has a story to tell - you may just need to ease it out of him. Brainstorm some non-boring conversation points, like cool new rides at Disneyland or potential activities for an upcoming trip. When in doubt, tell an embarrassing story from your childhood. Nothing thrills a child more than a parent's complete humiliation.

"Distraction is the key," says Dr. Gray. "It's also helpful to do table activities at home, too, so kids associate every meal with no screen time. And the most important thing? Have a no phone rule at the table for everyone, including you."

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