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Tension at the Dinner Table

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My partner is very strict about table manners. My kids are constantly told to chew with their mouths shut. That's not usually a problem, but they are sometimes very eager to join in the conversation and don't finish chewing their food before speaking. I stopped making conversation to keep them from getting in trouble. Now dinnertime is always quiet and tense. My kids only want my partner's approval. How can I improve the situation?

A: Eating as a family should be a time of relaxed, warm, pleasant sharing among all family members. Because of the punishing presence of your partner, dinnertime has turned into a time that your kids fear. Your kids are literally afraid to open their mouths! This woman has way too much control in your family. As the mother of these children, I strongly recommend that you discuss this with your partner, explaining to her that you want family dinnertime to be a pleasant experience for everyone, especially your kids. If you need help in confronting her, I suggest seeing a therapist for advice and support. Some professional help might assist you in reclaiming your rights as a parent.

The atmosphere you describe at your family dinner table is an unhealthy one for your children to experience. My guess is that your partner's negative influence on your family's life extends far beyond her disturbing presence at the dinner table. Your kids need an advocate and that's your responsibility.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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