Q & A: Eating and Choices
“My almost 6 yr old daughter prefers to play with daddy since he is better (and deals with kids for a living might I add). She thinks I’m too controlling when she wants to wear shorts instead pants in 55 degree weather. I don’t need her getting sick. She is starting to not like healthy food if sugar isn’t in it. I search tirelessly to find the healthiest snacks with lower sugar for school. However, she eats 5 dinner items at home and nothing else. She doesn’t want whole grain fishy snacks anymore and won’t eat them at school this year, but yesterday while at a friend’s house on a play date she ate a bag of them. I’m at my wits end and am starting to do my own thing when dad gets home. She is strong willed and breaks down and cries if she doesn’t get her way. It is either Ava’s way or no way. I try to give her choices but she is getting to spoiled and doesn’t like anything as a result. It seems easier to say this is all we have. She is picky about everything! Help.” Frustrating mom.
Dear Frustrated Mom,
I’ve been where you are. I had a very picky eater. Your situation has become a power struggle. Here are a couple of tips for you.
Begin by listening to how you’re wording your choices. If the two choices you’re offering has one option that a parent hopes the child will choose, and one option that a parent hopes a child won’t choose, you haven’t created a choice, you’ve created a potential power struggle. Each of you will begin arguing to get the choice you want.
A true choice offers two options, both that the parent fully approves of and doesn’t care which one the child chooses. The child feels the shift in power moving from something mom insists I do, to something I get to truly choose for myself, and (s)he cooperates.
Every parent thinks it, or says it, “Just try it, I know you’ll like it.” The child balks, whines and refuses. The refusal causes the parent to be upset that the food, that took so long to make, isn’t even being tasted. Then feeling tired and defeated, Mom reluctantly offers another choice so there isn’t a fight at dinner.
What if there was a way to get your child to take a bite, at each meal, with no complaints. There is a way!
It’s called a Thank You Bite. I learned this from the center director of Bright Horizon’s in Portland.
The Thank You Bite is an opportunity to have a child taste what’s been prepared, which helps to expand his palette, all without a power struggle.
Explain to your kids that from now on everyone is required to take 1-3 bites [depending on your particular child] of whatever has been put on their plate, even if they don’t like it. This bite is a way to say Thank You for taking the time to cook this.
Before this plays out at the dinner table, have your child help you create their own personal container of healthy food. This is where they prepare their own meal when they don’t like what’s for dinner, but only after they’ve taken a Thank You Bite.
Remember, most kids prefer single items to eat, like chicken cubes, cheese, crackers, cut up fruit and veggies versus the combining of foods that adults enjoy.
Also, kids have far more taste buds than we do, and some foods are just too strong for them. Many Dr.’s have told me that eating only 5 items at this age, as long as the items are healthy, is perfectly fine. But check with your Dr. first.
This works because it takes the power struggle out of the situation. This is also a mindful way to handle the food situation, because you allowing your child to learn from their choices. More about Mindful ways to correct and change lack of listening and cooperation in weeks to come.
Check in next week to read another A to your Q. And let us know if you’ve had any success with these tips.
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