Every time we interact with our kids about anything, we’re teaching them something. The only question that remains is, “What are you teaching?”
Knowing if the lessons you intend to teach are the lessons your kids are learning is what I call, Conscious Parenting. To become a conscious parent you may have to improve your messaging. Yes. Improve messaging.
If you’re tempted to say, sometimes food is just food and serving a meal is just serving a meal, you’re not alone. I get feedback like that all the time. No matter how appealing this line of thinking is, though, it’s simply isn’t so.
Sometimes the lessons learned aren’t just about the food/eating. The lessons are about behavior.
“Hmmm, the more I fuss the more likely I get to eat crackers.”
Conscious Parenting means you spot the gap between the lesson you intend to teach and the lesson your kids are learning. Then you adjust your technique and improve messaging.
Your know your lessons aren’t hitting the mark if your kids’ issues don’t improve.
Instead, you find yourself “teaching” the same lesson over and over.
Example: You tell your kids to eat two more bites of vegetable because you want them to learn that vegetables are important to eat. Instead, kids learn:
- I have to eat veggies even if I don’t want them. This makes me dislike them even more.
- Mommy knows better than I do how much I should eat. I should always look to others for clues about portion size.
- Dessert is usually eaten on a full stomach. Feeling full isn’t a sign to stop eating; it’s when the good times roll!
- How much I eat is open to negotiation.
Read Raising Lawyers.
The gap between the lesson you think you are teaching, and the lesson your kids are actually learning is where most problem-eating patterns are born. Identify and correct the gap=conscious parenting.
10 Ways You May be Unintentionally Teaching Your Kids NOT to Eat Dinner. And How to Improve Messaging
1) Allow children to fill up before dinner (think, cheese and crackers, hummus and chips).
- Lesson Learned: Dinner isn’t really important; I fill up whenever I eat; Snacks are tastier than meals.”
- Correction: Create a no-eating zone before dinner or serve only vegetables.
2) Talk up dessert.
- Lesson Learned: Dinner is a chore but desserts rock; Mom and Dad think desserts are tastier than “real” food too; I know exactly how much I have to eat before I’m allowed to get to the good stuff.
- Correction: Neutralize dessert by giving everyone a portion regardless of how well they ate dinner. Consider serving a fruit dessert.
3) Encourage milk consumption at the wrong times.
- Lesson Learned: My parents like it when I drink milk; I can fill up on anything I want.
- Correction: Serve set amounts of milk. Consider milk in the morning, before bed or instead of another kind of snack.
4) Prepare a favorite meal in advance because you know your child won’t eat what you’ve prepared.
- Lesson Learned: I can hold out longer than my parents; If I make my parents really miserable they give me what I want.
- Correction: Use the Rotation Rule using foods children already eat, to teach the mindset of variety.
5) Beg kids to taste new foods but then return to the kitchen to turn out a favorite meal. (This technique works best if you have a bit of a fight with your child before giving in.)
- Lesson Learned: When I’m stubborn I get my way; Sometimes it takes a good fight to get the “good” food, but it’s worth it.
- Correction: Teach your kids to be good tasters.
6) Provide preferred foods as the after-dinner snack.
- Lesson Learned: Why eat dinner? There’s always something better later; Saying “I’m hungry” is a great procrastination technique; My parents fear my hunger, maybe I should too.
- Correction: Schedule a boring, but nutrition snack. Kids who choose not to eat the snack will be ready for breakfast!
7) Put so much pressure on your child to eat that it’s a point of honor for him to resist.
- Lesson Learned: Eating is a power struggle and I usually win.
- Correction: Let Eating Zones do the work.
8) Teach your child the mindset that he has to eat a certain number of bites (instead of listen to his hunger/satiation signals). Then spend the rest of the meal continually negotiating down the number of bites you tell your child he has to eat before being excused from the table. Before long, the number of bites will approach zero.
- Lesson Learned: My parents think they know better than me how much I should eat; My parents don’t really mean what they say; If I hold out, I get my way—eventually.
- Correction: Use the Happy Bite.
9) Tell your child he should eat something because it’s healthy, because he wants to grow up big and strong, because his big brother eats it.
- Lesson Learned: I know I don’t want to eat that food because my parents have taught me that healthy food tastes bad (see Lesson #2).
- Correction: Don’t try to “sell” food.
10) Insist your child sit at the table when there’s something really, really exciting happening in the next room.
- Lesson Learned: The quicker I can convince my parents that I’m not hungry the sooner I can get back to the fun.
- Correction: Encourage honesty so kids don’t misuse, “hunger.” Consider Eating Zones. Time meals better!
Every tactic has a place in the arsenal. Used regularly, however, they produce bad habits.
Remember, it’s not what you feed—it’s what you teach—that matters. And that’s conscious parenting!
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
A version of this post appeared earlier on It’s Not About Nutrition.