Broken pretzels are cursed.
How else can we explain why some kids absolutely refuse to eat them?
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.
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.