Feeding children is tough. Believe me, I know. I have two children and have fed them everyday for 6 years and counting. I have been frustrated when they refuse the meal I spent hours cooking. After hours of researching the psychology of feeding children, I have been purposely taking a proactive approach to our new feeding environment. Below is a list of common but negative comments I have made to my children which are VERY counterproductive. While some words have been difficult to delete from my “mom” vocabulary with practice I am on the road to a new way of feeding.
7 Common Counterproductive Phrases
- “If you are not going to eat that, what else do you want to eat?”
Providing a child with instant gratification seems to be easier on everyone, right? WRONG. In the long term it is not good for my sanity or my child’s development. Becoming a short-order cook teaches my children they are not expected to participate in the family meal. They learn it is not expected to try new foods. Understanding normal eating behaviors of children is important to help navigate the picky eating scene. Read Normal Eating Behaviors of Children.
- “My child won’t eat broccoli.”
I have said this in ear shot of my child which was wrong of me to do- why would my child eat broccoli after he heard me say this to another adult? I just gave him permission to refuse it and he will want to live up to my expectation. In fact, he has but now will tolerate broccoli on is plate and I am ok with it.
- “If you do not eat your dinner, you cannot have dessert.”
This was my favorite and most common thing to say. It is easy, direct and threatening but in reality does not work. In fact, it only taught my child to overeat. My child learned that in order to eat fun foods, he must be full from dinner first. He also learned dessert does not fit into the meal plan. If you serve dessert, it should be apart of the meal. I am sure you are raising your eyebrows at this one- dessert with dinner? Ya, right! I know what your are thinking- your child will only eat the dessert and nothing else. Just remember, dessert can come in other forms- yogurt, fruit, frozen homemade pops, etc.
- “Clean your plate, there are starving people in the world.”
Ok- yes, as a President of a large food pantry, food insecurity is important to me. I have learned to make less food and let my child self-serve from serving platters to decrease food waste. Children should be allowed to self-regulate their food intake. Their internal feeling of fullness should be respected when they say they are done eating. Allowing children to serve themselves from a family style setting is also a form of self-regulation. It allows them to gauge their hunger level and plan accordingly. Pressuring children to clean their plate is only encouraging over-eating.
- “Great job!”
My husband and I said this a lot. In fact, I still catch myself saying it after my child eats all of her food. We mean well but in truth the child learns she is good when she cleans her plate or is full from eating, which encourages over-eating (AGAIN).
- “I will bring ……… for my child to eat, he is picky and only eats kid friendly foods.”
Yes, I have said this a couple of times (believe it or not). When a child hears a parent say this, he will live up to this expectation, be picky and eat only …….. (insert any food). Not good- just go with the flow and eat what your guest is serving unless there is an allergy issue. If your child is hungry, they will eat it. Really- hunger will get the best of them and they will naturally respond to the pains in their stomach by eating what is available. Children will not starve themselves.
- “I hate (insert any food).”
If I do not like a food and even hate it, my child will too. If a child hears a parent talk poorly about something, she will take on the same viewpoint. If mom does not like eggplant, it must be bad, right?
With much practice, I take a proactive approach to feeding my children and try very hard to avoid the statements listed above. Although, I hate to admit it, they do pop out of mouth every now and then. The idea of a proactive approach to feeding children is to be positive about food and expect your child to try new food without pressure.
Proactive Language for a Positive Feeding Environment
“Since I know you really enjoy broccoli, I asked Grandma Harrison to make it for dinner tonight. I bet you are excited.”
“It is ok if you do not like broccoli tonight, sometimes we just are not in the mood for broccoli. Maybe you would like it tomorrow for lunch?”
“If you are not going to eat the broccoli, can I have it? I would like more and I am still hungry.”
“Guess what Uncle Matt is making for dinner? … Grilled salmon and creamed spinach–your favorite!”
“It is up to you to try the creamed spinach. I tried it and really like it.”
“If you are done eating, it is ok. Great job listening to your body.”
“You must have been hungry. Great job listening to your body.”
“Can you help me decide what vegetable to cook for dinner? Are you in the mood for broccoli, asparagus or carrots?”
“If you are not hungry, it is ok, but it is also your time to eat.”
“Do you want to look in the refrigerator and pick out the vegetables for our salad?”
“How does the fresh cilantro, basil and mint salad taste that Pops and Ya Ya made? I find it so refreshing and yummy.”
“Of course you can try the candy. It is nice of your cousins to share. Make sure you tell me which is your favorite!”
ReferencesIrene Chatoor, Robert Hirsch, Melody Persinger, “Facilitating Internal Regulation of Eating: A Treatment Model for Infantile Anorexia,” Infants young Child 9, no. 4 (1997): 12-22. Myles S. Faith, Kelley S. Scanlon, Leann L. Birch, Lori A. Francis, and Betty Lou Sherry, “Parent-Child Feeding Strategies and Their Relationship to Child Eating and Weight Status,” Obesity Research 12, no. 1 (2004): 1711-1722.
Ronette R. Briefel, Kathleen Reidy, Vatsala Karwe, Linda Jankowski, Kristy Hendricks, “Toddlers’ Transition to Table Foods: Impact on Nutrient Intakes and Food Patterns,” The Journal of The American Dietetic Association 104, no. 1 (2004): s38-s44.
JA. Mennella and JC. Trabulsi, “Complementary Foods and Flavor Experiences: Setting the Foundation,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 60 (2012): s40-50.
Leann L. Birch and Jennifer O. Fisher, “Development of Eating Behaviors Among Children and Adolescents,” Pediatrics Supplement (1998): 539-548.
Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Through the Life Cycle, 5th ed. (Stamford: Cengage Learning, 2014), 281.
Sharlin, J. Edelstein, Essentials of Life Cycle Nutrition (Sudbury: Jones and Barlett Publishers, 2011), 38. Mayr Kay Fox, Susan Pac, Barbara Devaney and Linda Jankowski, “Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study: What Foods are Infants and Toddlers Eating?” The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104, no. 1 (2004): s22-s30.
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