New Year’s is all about change and improvement.
But change is hard. (Maybe that is why most of us resolve to make the same changes year after year.) For many people, two things stand in the way of change:
- Biting off too big a bite
When we’re talking about kids and eating habits, the clearest example of this two-pronged problem is when we’re talking about new foods, particularly veggies. But it applies to all kinds of eating habits (like a child who is obsessed with crackers … or maybe milk).
Problem 1: Stress likes to travel with friends. Like anxiety. Guilt. Temptation.
Have you ever noticed this? You feel stressed about something. You want to make a change. But you can’t. Stress makes you feel stuck and out of control. And bad habits seem to be more difficult to change. In fact, bad habits seem to be even worse. Familiar?
Stress does the same thing to your kids. So let’s say you and your kids have been struggling over eating habits. Meals have become very tense. Nothing you do is going to work. Why? Your children are primed to resist your efforts, no matter what you do.
Stress makes people hunker down. (And kids are people too!) This is a prime parenting moment masquerading as a food moment.
Tip 1: Reduce the Stress
Reducing the stress around meals isn’t as hard as it may seem. But you’re going to have to relax too.
- Start by acknowledging the stress. Your kids probably don’t have the insight or the vocabulary to initiate this kind of a conversation but they’ll definitely benefit from having it. Think of this as teaching your children both about their emotions and about their relationships.
- Apologize for your role in creating the stress. Although you may feel like the stress comes from your kids, they definitely feel like it comes from you. Moreover, unless you specifically apologize for creating the stress they will assume you are blaming them. That will lead to more resistance. Fake it if you have to but apologize.
- Tap into your inner permissive parent for a few days. When used as a long-term strategy, permissive parenting exacerbates problem eating. However, when used as a temporary fix it can turn stressful situations around. Tell your children they can forgo vegetables for a week. Drink more chocolate milk than you normally allow. Snack on chips. Explain that this is a reset period.
Problem 2: Biting off too big a bite can shut down the system.
It doesn’t matter how easy the change you’re asking your children to make seems to you. What matters is how it seems to your children. The trick is to find the sweet spot where the change you are asking for is enough change to make some progress but not too much change that your kids won’t play the game.
Here are three examples of finding the sweet spot using the Rotation Rule:
- Yogurt every other day.
- Yogurt every day – different flavors from day-to-day
- Yogurt every day – same flavor, different meals
For most children, the ideal outcome is simply too hard to attain in one giant step. By pressing for too big of a challenge, parents set their children up for failure (and, in doing so, they set themselves up for a great deal of frustration).
Tip 2: Find the Sweet Spot for Effective Change
The sweet spot is like Goldilocks: not too much but not too little.
If your kids balk when you ask them to taste a new food you have to ask for a smaller step.
- Touch before Smell
- Smell before Taste
- Taste before Eat
We don’t have to limit our focus on introducing new foods. Let’s say you want your children to learn to manage sweets and treats. You might start with managing when they have one treat per day. You could then move on to having them manage the week. Or start talking about proportion as a whole.
Let’s say you want your children to learn not to overeat. You might start with a conversation about different motivations for eating. Move on to a conversation about identifying hunger and satiety. Then you would practice that skill.
Every eating habit (i.e. new lesson) can be broken down into smaller steps.
Reward your children for each small step. With praise. Or stars. Or with extra stories at bedtime. Reward with whatever your children find rewarding!
The point is, when you eliminate stress and present your kids with small, doable challenges, they succeed.
Nothing encourages kids to move forward more than that. And changing your kids’ lives will change your life as well!
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Parts of this post originally appears on this blog in 2013.