It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

Hoboken Family Alliance A terrific resource for people living in the great city of Hoboken, NJ.

The Lunch Tray Everything you need to know about improving school lunches.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

Stay and Play The best indoor playspace on the East Coast. Oh yeah, and it happens to be owned by my brother.

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 

Entries in Self-Control (3)

Tuesday
Nov082011

Healthy Eating for the Holidays

Here’s a healthy eating tip to get you and your toddlers through the holidays:

Teach your kids to problem solve.  And while you’re at it, teach them to plan ahead, self-soothe and delay gratification too.

I know it sounds far-fetched, but studies show these skills are related to healthy eating because they lead to what researchers call “effortful control.”  That’s a mouthful, right?

Effortful control: the ability to thoughtfully process information, to systematically make decisions and to regulate impulse and emotion.  Sounds like your toddler.  No?

Actually, toddlers are hard-wired—literally—to be impulsive.  They want what they want NOW. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that research shows that impulsivity doesn’t lead to healthy eating.  Rather, it leads to snack and junk-food consumption.

Now you understand why toddlers—and maybe even spouses— want to eat the way they do! But you can teach them—kids, maybe not spouses— to do better.

Teaching your kids to do better might just save your sanity. OK, since Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away it might be a tall order for this year. But teach your kids these skills and next year will definitely go a lot smoother. (It's good to have a goal!)

Impulsivity and reasoning come from two different places in the brain.

Although children develop their reactive impulse during infancy, their ability to reason starts to develop during the preschool years.  That’s why 4 year olds make so much more sense than 3 year olds. 

But—and here’s a big but—researchers have discovered that you can help children develop their reasoning and self-regulation skills as early as age 3. 

Why bother? 

  • One study recently found that children with poor delay of gratification at age 4 had an increased risk of becoming overweight by the time they were 11. 
  • Another study found that children with lower self-regulation skills gained weight more rapidly between 3-11 than children who had better regulatory skills.

In other words, the more self-control your young children exhibit, the better off they’ll be in later years. Read Marshmallows Make You Smart!

The more you transfer decision-making to your children, the more ably they’ll make decisions, and the better they'll eat. 

Toddlers aren’t known for patience, thinking ahead, planning for the future.  But it’s only through the exercise of having to consider future consequences that children learn to delay gratification and to be forward thinkers.

Consider this: The next time your children demand cookies and it’s the day before a big party, instead of telling them “no” explain your rationale.  Then, start giving your children choices between getting that goodie now and indulging in a (potentially better) treat later.  This will teach your kids how to plan ahead and the benefits of delayed gratification.

You can teach your kids other important skills too.  Think like a researcher! Start giving your children plenty of opportunities for problem solving, and exposure to tasks with increasingly complex rules. (Consider asking your children to sort cards based on color, then to sort them based on color and shape, etc.) In other words, you don't have to dumb everything down. On the contrary, expect your kids to rise to the occasion. They will—especially with practice.

Believe it or not, these skills will translate into better eating because they teach your kids better self-regulation.

The holidays are a perfect time to start teaching your kids skills like self-control and delayed gratification.

You know there will be plenty of opportunities! You might as well use them to your advantage.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Sources:

Isasi, C. R. and T. A. Wills. 2011. “Behavioral Self-Regulation and Weight-Related Behaviors in Inner-City Adolescents: a Model of Direct and Indirect Effects.” Childhood Obesity 7(4): 306-15.

Dowsett, S. M. and D. J. Livesey. 2000. “The Development of Inhibitory Control in Preschool Children: Effects of "Executive Skills" Training.” Developmental Psychobiology 36: 161-74.

Riggs, N. R., M. T. Greenberg, C. A. Kusche, and M. A. Pentz. 2006. “The Mediational Role of Neurocognition in the Behavioral Outcomes of a Social-Emotional Prevention Program in Elementary School Students: Effects of the Paths Curriculum.” Prevention Science 7(1): 91-102.

Tuesday
Mar152011

The Dinner Dance: When is Enough Enough?

When to end dinner?  The answer seems like it should be simple: you end dinner when everyone has eaten enough.

If you have a dawdler, the kind of kid who can spend 45 minutes eating, chatting, playing, and then eating some more, you know that deciding when to call it quits isn’t always so clear cut.

But even if you have a focused child, the kind who gets right down to business, figuring out when to end a meal can be tricky: your child says she’s done, but you’re not convinced that 2 bites of chicken and a swig of milk are going to do the trick.  And the last thing you want to deal with is a whiny, fussy, hungry kid 20 minutes after the dishes are done. 

That’s why parents say they are always pushing Two More Bites.  Recent research provides a different explanation.

Research shows that parents don't usually even ask their preschool kids if they are full. When they do ask, however, parents don’t believe what their children say.

When preschool children try to claim they are full, they are frequently met with the following kinds of responses:

  • Disbelief – “But you’ve only had a few bites. You can’t be full.”
  • Encouragement – “You can do it; finish a few more bites.”
  • Pleading – “Please just eat this much and you’re done.”
  • Bribing – “There are cookies waiting when you finish up.”

(And if you find yourself under the table trying to persuade your pumpkin to open up, you know you've moved beyond bribing!)

In fact, when it comes to reporting satiation, parents are more likely to believe their infants than their toddlers, even though toddlers are more capable of communicating. Read The 2-More-Bites-Tango: How YOU Can Take the Lead.

Your heart is in the right place—you want your kids to be nourished and you don’t want to operate like a restaurant— but pushing kids to eat more than they want doesn’t just risk teaching them to overeat.  It teaches them they don’t have the right to know when they are full.  And that’s a more serious problem.

Knowing when to end a meal is complicated.

Because you don’t actually know how much food your children need at any particular moment—a truth that’s tough to live with—and because as long as there is food or drink left on the plate the meal can still be “in play,” it’s hard to know what to do.

But how you end the meal matters.

  • If you are a person who can trace your after-dinner sweet “need” to childhood, you know what I mean.
  • And if you have a hard time putting your fork down as long as there is food on your plate, you also know what I mean. 

Mealtimes serve a variety of functions, only one of which is to keep your kids fed. 

When you think bigger than the food you realize that it’s during mealtimes that you are also:

  • Shaping your children's relationship to food and teaching about who controls their bodies. (Is it you, or is it them?)
  • Instructing your kids on the rules of eating. (You eat, you don’t play. You sit on a chair, you don’t stand on it. You put food in your mouth, not on the floor.)
  • Teaching your children how to engage in a structured conversation, where there are rules about who speaks and when it’s alright to interrupt.
  • Exposing your children to the wider culture through conversation with parents and siblings.

And the list goes on...

When mealtimes become centered on food problems—on getting kids to eat more, to eat less or to eat in a timelier manner—these other functions of the meal become subverted.  In other words, you’re not only shaping your child’s relationship to food, you are shaping your child’s relationship with you, with siblings, with the world…no pressure!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t hurry things along, or create an environment conducive to eating.

I am saying that you have to be conscious of the lessons (all the lessons) that your kids are learning and make sure that you teach the ones you intend.  About food  About rights. About interactions. About life.

For more on this topic read Raising Lawyers.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Additional source:  Laurier, E. and S. Wiggins. 2011. “Finishing the Family Meal. the Interactional Organisation of Satiety.” Appetite 56: 53-64.

Tuesday
Feb162010

Marshmallows Make You Smart!

Want your kids to go to Harvard? Give them marshmallows!

In one famous study, a group of four year olds were offered 1 marshmallow each. They were told they could eat the marshmallow right away.  However, if they waited 10 minutes before eating it, they would be given 2 marshmallows!

Most of the kids choose to eat the single marshmallow. (Perhaps that’s no big surprise.)  But one third of the kids waited.

Years later, the kids who waited to eat their marshmallows scored an average of 210 points higher on their verbal and math SAT tests than kids who ate their treats right away!

Learning impulse control helps kids develop a range of superior emotional and social skills. 

OK.  So marshmallows don’t make kids smart.  In fact, the food is irrelevant.  The study just used marshmallows to see which kids had learned to control their desires. (The study has been reproduced using other goodies.)

It turns out that learning impulse control at an early age is also related to:

  • Being able to cope with adversity and stress
  • Self-confidence
  • Diligence
  • Self-reliance
  • Assertiveness
  • The ability to cope with frustration
  • Trustworthiness
  • The ability to work well under pressure
  • Dependability
  • Responding to reason
  • High levels of concentration
  • Being an eager learner
  • Academic competence
  • Perseverance
  • High SAT test scores

Here’s something else: poor impulse control is a better predictor of juvenile delinquency than IQ!

You don’t have to offer your kids twice the goodies to teach them impulse control.  The key is to teach them to be forward thinkers by the way you feed them.

Kids are naturally focused on the here and now, and while being in the moment may be a good Buddhist practice, it’s not the best technique for eating right.  Instead, being able to plan for the future – parties, playdates, and visits by grandparents – is the essential skill kids need to have.

Here’s one way to teach impulse control:

1) Set a daily or weekly junk limit. Consider both the size of the treats and the frequency with which they’re eaten.

2) Point out upcoming events when junk will be eaten so your child can make the best choice.  “We’re going to a party later where there will be cupcakes and candy.  You can have a donut now, but then you can’t have the treats later.  Which do you want?”

3) Let your child choose when she eats her junk.

Many parents have used this technique to end the junk food battle.

One woman I know had a struggle with her kids on Thursdays because that was donut day.  Every once in awhile her kids would ask for an additional treat that day, such as a cookie after school. If Mom said “No,” the kids complained until she gave in.  After Mom started using this technique, however, her kids choose between the donuts and the cookies and they happily lived with their choice.

With current concerns about childhood obesity, there is no better place to teach your children self-control than around food.

Just because young kids will probably choose the treat now over the treat later isn’t a reason not to try this technique.  In fact, it’s only through exposure to this kind of exercise that your child will learn to choose the payoff they really prefer (instead of just the one at hand) and develop the skills they’ll need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Once your kids learn impulse control, the rest of the benefits will follow suit.

And you can start downloading that application to Harvard.  (Those of you on the West Coast, think Stanford!)

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~

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Source:  Zimbardo, P. and J. Boyd, 2008. The Time Paradox: the New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. New York, NY: Free Press. Pp. 215-217.