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Reality Check: Curbing Dinnertime TV

Q. We started letting our 2- and 5-year-old sons eat in front of the TV so they'd sit still long enough to finish. It's now a habit -- any advice?

We fell into the TV dinner habit too, during a period when adult stress levels were high enough to make concerns about kids' bad habits low on our list of family priorities. The electronic pacifier enabled me to get a few things done in the kitchen or even glance at the newspaper. But, like you, I knew this shouldn't go on indefinitely. In our case, what nudged us to change was moving to a new home in a different state, where the house rules could be revised as part of a fresh start.

The same strategy can be employed without picking up and moving. Set an auspicious date to begin the new policy -- the first of the month or the first day back at school, for instance. Mark it on the calendar, and then explain the plan to your boys. We had Madeline and Ellie go from almost every dinner in front of the TV to two nights a week -- Fridays and Saturdays -- which, now that these TV evenings are fewer and therefore precious, they look forward to as special dinner-and-a-movie kids' nights.

As for helping Ellie, our less voracious child, sit still long enough to eat, we've learned on non-TV nights to allow for her fidgety nature. We start dinner early and leave her plate out for as long as possible to give her enough time, which I find preferable to pressuring her to eat faster.

Meanwhile, until you decide it's the right time to make the change, don't sweat it. There are far worse combinations than macaroni and cheese with a side of Arthur.

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.