News flash: You can’t make your child’s eating habits worse by talking about the problem. They know you want them to eat differently.
Almost every day, one parent or another tells me some version of, I think my child has figured out what I’m doing. As if it’s important to have the stealth of a cat burglar. As if children don’t know you want them to change how they eat. But here’s the truth. recognizing the elephant in the room can only make things better. Some part of why kids resist your efforts to introduce new foods or to teach them to eat at meals instead of between meals, or to eat only until their full and not beyond is simply because you snuck up on them. Your kids weren’t prepared for the change. They weren’t consulted. You have to talk to your kids. And you have to talk to your kids in a way that makes them listen.
Read Surprise! Surprise!
The benefits of talking to your kids about how you want them to eat.
- Kids feel validated
- You can learn more about what is going on. Think of this as fact-finding. (Do you know why your child won’t eat at the table or are you just guessing?)
- Most importantly, you involve your child in the solution
Of course it is likely that talking to your children will seem to reveal more questions than solutions.
Try seeing this as an opportunity to resolve the string of problems that underlie the one issue that has caught your attention. These things are rarely straightforward.
1. Describe what you see as the problem.
I see that you don’t like to eat at the table.
It looks like you want to eat the same food every night.
2. Show children their feelings are accepted.
Ask your children to explain how they feel. Listen quietly and attentively. Acknowledge their feelings. Give the feeling a name, That sounds frustrating!
Recognize that your children’s feelings are legitimate. This may require an apology from you. I’m sorry that you feel like I make you eat more than you want. Or, I won’t surprise you with new foods anymore. I’ll always tell you what I’m serving.
3. Explain your goals.
Big kids and grownups eat most of their meals at the table. It’s neater. It’s my job to teach you how to do that.
Sometimes we can have the pasta you like, but when a family eats together, we all eat the same food. That means sometimes you get your favorite, sometimes Mommy gets her favorite and sometimes Daddy gets his favorites.
4. Reassure children: Change is hard but you’re here to help.
Sometimes a simple statement works wonders.
We are going to start learning about variety by using something called the Rotation Rule. But we’re going to start off by only using the food you normally eat so that it’s easy for you.
5. Encourage input.
Show respect for your children’s struggles. Ask them how they think your family could accomplish both your goals and their goals. Consider how you can incorporate their suggestions, even if they don’t seem practical, reasonable, or worthwhile.
This might require a little back and forth. For instance, let’s say your children don’t want to stay at the table for dinner because it’s boring, you will have to explain that it’s important they eat enough food so they’re not hungry and then ask them to think about their plan for that.
6. Put together a plan together. Remember, you’re the leader.
OK, now I understand why you don’t like sitting at the table. It’s boring. And we parents end up talking to each other instead of to you. How about this:
- You choose a place to eat other than the table for lunch.
- We will make sure that we talk together or play a word game at the table so you’re included.
- You can be excused when you’re done eating, but you’ll have to make sure you eat enough food.
- Then, sometimes we’ll let you pick a place for us all to eat dinner – maybe a picnic under the table.
I know that having these kinds of conversations sometimes feels like you’re falling down the rabbit hole.
But changing how your kids eat doesn’t lend itself to a sound bite. And that is why eating right is really about behavior and not about food.
By the way, you can have this conversation with children of any age, as long as they have receptive language. Of course, if your kids can’t speak for themselves, you have to fill in more of the conversation.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~