You've slaved over an awesome Food Network-worthy holiday spread for all your relatives, yet your little food critic pronounces it gross or decides he'd rather play with his mashed potatoes than eat them.
Prevention pointers: First, remind yourself that no kid will sit quietly during a long family dinner. He's not being rude -- he's just not developmentally able to handle it yet. So don't aim too high; just go over a few basic table manners you want your child to follow (no throwing food or eating with his hands, for example), and serve at least one dish he recognizes -- and will eat. And don't force him to stay at the table for the entire meal. Many toddlers can sit still for 15 to 20 minutes; preschoolers may last 30 minutes. Set a timer before you eat so your child will know he can ask to be excused when the bell rings.
Fast fix: If your child refuses to cooperate, and you feel the critical glare of your relatives, remove him from the table and remind him how he should behave in private. Then try to laugh it off, says Braun. You might say, "It's been a long time since you've had the pleasure of dining with a 3-year-old, hasn't it?" Or explain that your child is simply too excited to remember all of his manners today. Hey, it's probably the truth!
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Parents magazine.