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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Links

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 Shaping Behavior (27)

Friday
May012015

Some Thoughts on the Hunger-Induced Toddler Meltown

I'm reluctant to wade into the topic of the toddler meltown because it's tough and sensitive. Nonetheless, this is one area that can mess up your food-parenting strategy.

Here's a radical thought: there's no way to know if your child's hunger is actually causing the meltdown. Consider the following scenarios: 

  • You want to serve more fruits and vegetables for snack but the time you tried, your child refused and then had a hunger-induced meltdown. So now you stick to crackers because it's the safer bet.
  • You think the Rotation Rule is a good idea, but when you gave your child a choice between a turkey sandwich and a ham sandwich, she said she wanted peanut butter. You tried to stick to your guns (following my advice/script)—"You can have peanut butter tomorrow but today your choice is turkey or ham."—but then your daughter refused to eat lunch and all afternoon she was a mess.
  • You're not fond of the before-bed snack, but when you don't give your son a little something, he cries and then wakes up throughout the night. It's not worth the fight.

I could go on, but you get my point. The hunger-induced meltdown gets in the way of your best plans...all the time!

You can connect the dots (hunger-->no eating-->meltdown) but there's no way to know whether the meltdown is actually caused by your child's hunger since you can't get inside your child's tummy.

Possibilitiy A: Your child is so hungry he can't think straight. Hence the meltdown.

Possibility B: Your child is hungry, but wants something different to eat, and she knows from past experiences that behaving badly gets her what she wants.

Possibility C: Your child is not hungry but wants to eat and he knows that behaving badly gets you to produce snacks.

Possibility D: Your child is not hungry but is just behaving badly. When you produce the snacks you distract her from the tantrum and calm is restored.

This is just one of the things that makes parenting kids around food soooo difficult.

Since you can't know whether you're dealing with Possibility A, B, C, or D, the only solution is structure. And a couple of lessons.

Structure, i.e. rules that lay the foundation for what and when food is eating, is necessary because it makes food and eating predictable for your kids. 

And here's one last radical thought: One important lesson even small children can (and need to learn) is how to soothe themselves in the face of the hunger meltdown.

After all, most young children can't really eat when they're upset anyway. 

There's no reason not to feed the child who has the one-off hunger-induced meltdown, but doing it on a regular basis sets up the wrong habits, both for now and for a lifetime of healthy eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 

Tuesday
Sep232014

The Curse of the Broken Pretzel

Broken pretzels are cursed.

How else can we explain why some kids absolutely refuse to eat them?

Source: Mommy Shorts.com

Last week, Mommy Shorts.com published a hilarious sequence of photos depicting picky eaters and their food hangups.  

Check it out here.

One of my readers asked if I could suggest what parents can do to combat these problem (other than give in). Here you go, a plan to exorcise the curse!

1) Recognize that what looks like a food issue is really a behavior issue.

Behavior issues are impacted by the interactions you have with your child. That's good news. The way to change your child's behavior is to change how you react.

2) You can't care whether or not your child eats the broken pretzel or granola bar.

Things to say: 

  • "A broken pretzel tastes exactly like an unbroken one."
  • "You don't have to eat it if you don't want it."
  • "I'll try to give you unbroken pretzels when I can, because I know you prefer them, but when I grab a handful of pretzels to give you, there are usually going to be some broken ones."
  • "I'm happy to hear how you feel about the pretzels, but not when you're having a fit (tantrum)."
  • "We can talk about how you feel about the pretzels for 1 (or 5) minutes, but I will not talk to you about this any longer (because that's a fit...especially if there's whining).

The only reason for parents to give in to their children's demands to eat only unbroken pretzels, or toast that has not been perfectly toasted, or sandwiches that are not cut exactly the right way is to avoid a fight.

But establishing firm boundaries is the other way to avoid the fight. 

The key, then, is to make sure you distinguish between food problems and behavioral problems. Behavioral problems (tantruming in response to being given a broken pretzel, for instance) has to be solved with a behavioral solution. Do whatever you do (like use a time out?) to correct your child's behavior.

If you need your child to eat the pretzels, your child holds all the power.

But you might want to ask yourself why you care whether or not your child eats the pretzels. And if your child's food refusal comes at meals, then remember that your child has to have the freedom NOT to eat before she'll be able to willingly choose to eat.

End a meal rather than give in to this kind of irrational demand. (Then, remind yourself that the next snack or meal is not that far away. Read The Upside of Hunger.)

Here's how giving in to broken pretzels curses YOU:

Curse 1: When children express their need for control by restricting (or even eliminating) the food they'll eat, there's only one direction this can go: downhill.

The terrific feeling of control your child gets from successfully controlling the shape and size of the pretzel or the granola bars he'll eat lasts about 10 seconds. Then, the next time he wants to feel control, the only thing he can do is restrict something else.

This is how children who eat a large variety of foods end up eating a smaller and smaller range of items.

Curse 2: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers them.

Kids learn that they really can't cope with food in different forms. That they need to eat only unbroken pretzels.

Source: Mommy Shorts.com

Teaching children that they can cope with broken pretzels does the opposite: it empowers them. And if your child is refusing to eat a banana that has a bit of string or a sandwich that has crusts, teach your child to solve the problem herself. That's real power.

For more on this read The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Curse 3: Giving in to your children's quirky demands disempowers you...

...and turns the entire parenting relationship on its head.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Tuesday
Sep162014

I Hit My Dog: A Confession to Help Change How Your Kids Eat!

Yesterday I hit my dog.

I'm mortified. I'm not a hitter. But yesterday? My dog, who is a big jumper—I'm not exaggerating, this little guy can springboard to hip-height without a running start—was , shall we say, enthusiastically greeting everyone who came to the door. And a lot of people stopped by yesterday.

Don't worry. This is NOT a post about hitting kids. But it is a post about feeding them. Stay with me.

My dog is pretty well trained, except in the jumping-department.

Yesterday that meant I spent a lot of time using my best "alpha" voice, and when that didn't work, using my best yelling voice. "Down!" "No jumping!" "Off!"

Nothing worked. The dog kept jumping.

And so, in a final fit of desperation, I struck out.

In my defense, my hit wasn't really a hit.

Rather, it was a loud snap of the single, piece of paper I was holding in my hand. But it was a snap that connected with my dog's small snout. (Yes, I know that makes it a hit, but I'm trying to feel better about myself!) 

  • The dog flinched. My friend looked a little shocked.
  • And then the dog resumed jumping all over my friend.

So why am I telling you about this? Aside from the fact that confession is good for the soul?

As parents, we often try to teach the right lesson using the wrong technique.

The only change that occured in my dog's behavior is that he kept a better eye on me. When he saw me coming he flinched. When he thought I wasn't watching, he jumped.

If you've been trying—unsuccesfully—to change how your children eat, you need to change your strategy.

For instance, many parents want their children to learn that it's important to eat fruits and vegetables. And so we bribe, beg, cajole and then, finally barter. "Ok, just take two more bites."

Or, we want our children to try new foods so we pressure them to, "just take a taste."

These techniques teach the wrong lessons.

The gap between what you think you're teaching and what your kids are actually learning is where food problems thrive.

Read Conscious Parenting.

When techniques work, you can stop using them.

If you have to "remind" your kids every single night to eat their veggies, then they have learned some (or all) of the following (wrong) lessons:

  • I don't have to eat vegetables until Mom asks me.
  • If I wait until Mom asks me then I won't have to eat that huge pile of peas. Just a few bites.
  • No matter how many peas I eat, Mom will ask me to eat more. So waiting until Mom asks is the best way to minimize the number of peas I have to eat.
  • If I don't eat my peas now then I'm sure to get dessert because that will be my "price."
  • Dinner is a time for fighting.

The list goes on...

What your kids haven't learned is to eat their veggies.

For a different solution read: 

As for my dog?

Yelling was teaching him to ignore me. Hitting him was teaching him to avoid me.

Yesterday I worked hard to get him to stop flinching. Read: lots of petting and playing.

And now I'm searching for an anti-jumping technique that might actually work.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~