Friday, April 10, 2015

Avoiding Power-Struggles at the Table, Part 2

Last time we talked about some principles for preventing conflict around food.  We cannot force a child to eat, but we will develop a strategy that will use our greatest ally, the child’s own hunger, to help the child learn self-control and healthy eating habits.  This will only work if the strategy is not sabotaged by allowing snacking between meals. 

Here are the steps:
  1. Make sure to have 4 consistent, predictable eating times every day (3 meals and a set snack time).  
  2. Serve healthy meals with at least 3 food groups that are age appropriate and let them choose what to eat off the plate.  For young children, simple or single ingredients foods are good choices rather than casseroles or gourmet. 
  3. If they complain or say they don’t like it, simply explain to them, “We don’t say what we don’t like, just put it off to the side, and eat the rest.”  If they continue to complain, then they receive a time-out for complaining.  Make it clear that the time-out is for complaining, send them to their room for the appropriate amount of time, then they can come back and try again.
  4. If they don’t eat anything, that’s okay.  Just make sure you follow the whole process and don’t get into a power struggle: don’t try to convince, beg, nag, lecture, argue or bribe.  If they eat nothing, it’s alright, it will not hurt them if they miss a meal or even two (despite what they say). 
  5. Explain to them that if they get up, it means they are done and cannot have anything to eat until the next meal or snack time.  Again, there is no need for arguing or convincing, just state the facts and then stick to the routine.  It’s not “you-against-him”, he is making his own choice and will have to learn to live with those choices.  This not only gets you out of the potential power-struggle, it is a good life lesson!
  6. If they whine or complain that they are hungry between meals, don’t lecture, belittle, or say “I told you so.”  Just state the facts: “We will be having dinner at 6 PM, that is when we eat next.”  And move on without any emotion.  If their whining begins to infringe on the rights of you or others, they should have a time-out for the whining.

God made our bodies and biology works!  If you follow this process, they will eventually be hungry and learn to eat what you are giving them at a meal time.  But again, don’t make this into a big deal, and don’t shame them by saying, “I told you that you could eat it” or anything like that. 

As you grow together in this area, you will find that meal times together can be an enjoyable and pleasant experience for everyone and even become an important part of building a closer relationship with your child as you get to spend your meal time talking about life and learning about each other! 

Note: Juice and milk between meals are not a good idea because when they fill up on milk and juice (which are low in iron) they aren't hungry for foods with the iron and other nutrients that they need like meat, chicken, and beans.  Children should not have more that 1 cup of juice per day and if they are eating fruit they should have even less juice.  And children should not have more that 2 cups of milk per day and even less if they are eating other dairy.  If they are thirsty, water is the best choice, and it leaves plenty of room for healthy meals.

Avoiding Power-Struggles at the Table, Part 1

There are many times and circumstances in which kids seem to drag parents into a power struggle.  One common area of parenting that is often the setting for power struggles is around meal times and eating.  So in this and the next article, we will cover some principles and strategies for eliminating power struggles around food. 

First, a parent needs to realize that eating is something that a parent cannot and should not force a child to do.  This is a very important foundation for talking about power struggles surrounding food because it means we need to develop a strategy in which the child chooses to eat.  The second principle we need to remember is that we have a HUGE ally in this process … hunger! 

With preschool and elementary age children, all eating should be done on a specific schedule set by the parents.  The child this age does not have the wisdom or the developed self-control muscle to regulate their own eating. 

Kids can learn to eat and even like healthy food if it is given to them on a regular basis at times when they are hungry.  Don’t give up, they will have to try the same healthy foods several times before they get used to them. 

Snacking between meals sabotages hunger (remember hunger is your greatest ally in taking away the power struggle!), so if you let them snack between meals, you are taking away something they need in order to learn good habits!

Make a practice of always sitting at the table to eat.  Not only does this set a healthy pattern, it provides an opportunity to talk around the table, it helps kids learn self-control, it is respectful to others at the table, and will be helpful when you go out to a restaurant or someone else’s house.  This is also very important for the strategy that we will discuss in the next article. 

Next time, we will walk through a step-by-step process of teaching kids healthy eating habits and appropriate table behavior.