X Marks the Spot
Contributed by The Family Dinner Project Team
X Marks the Spot is a game of staying at the dinner table! Sometimes, family members have trouble staying seated and remaining at the table. But that can be okay; it’s not always developmentally appropriate to expect someone to sit quietly for a certain length of time. X Marks the Spot helps work with fidgety, restless or high-energy kids, to make meals more fun for everyone. Here’s how it works:
- The first rule of X Marks the Spot is for the family adults to get rid of the idea that everyone has to sit at the table. Standing can work, too! Just because it’s not what you expected, doesn’t mean that it can’t be part of a successful family meal.
- Once you’ve decided that some family members can choose to stand at mealtimes, to help with their motor needs, it’s time to grab some tape and start marking spots!
- We recommend using colored painter’s tape to mark your spots, so you don’t damage any flooring. If you don’t want to make X’s or use tape, you can vary this idea by placing small yoga mats, area rugs, or even a hula hoop. The idea is to create a visual boundary for your child.
- Place a large “X” or create a box or circle on the floor where your child may stand during mealtimes. Make it large enough for them to be able to fidget, wiggle, bounce, and get their energy out — but small enough that they’ll stay near the table and not bump into others.
- Once you’ve marked the space, introduce the idea to your child. Let them know they may sit if they wish, or if they feel the need to move around during mealtimes, they can move their chair away and use their marked spot instead.
- Be clear about what your rules for the marked spot will be, so your child understands the boundaries. Some rules of using the marked spot might include:
- Your whole body needs stay within your spot, so you’re not invading others’ personal space (i.e., you can move around the box we marked on the floor, but you can’t stick your arms/hands/feet/legs/face outside the box to touch or annoy others with your body)
- You can use your spot as long as you’re still participating in our mealtime. If the spot stops you from focusing on eating your food (while you’re still hungry) or from being part of our family conversation, then we’ll try a different idea that isn’t distracting to you.
- The spot should help you wiggle and move your body in the ways you need to in order to feel comfortable during our family meal. It shouldn’t be an excuse to try behavior that you already know we don’t approve of, like throwing/dropping food. (In other words, parents, while every child is on a different developmental journey — the spot shouldn’t allow regression to behaviors your child has already surpassed.)
- Reinforce the desired mealtime behaviors your child has already mastered. For example, you might remind them that while using the spot, you still want them to use their napkin nicely, or you still expect that they’ll eat with a fork rather than their fingers.
- Be realistic about your own goals. The idea of X Marks the Spot is to provide kids who need it with the extra support to move their bodies while still participating in family meals to the best of their ability. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should mandate they stay at the table for an enforced amount of time, or that you should expect they’ll suddenly master new eating or social skills they haven’t achieved before. It’s simply one tool you might use to help meet sensory-motor needs in a different way.