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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Entries in Shaping Behavior (25)


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.~


How Young is Too Young?

"I don't think my 2 year old understands. I've tried to implement The Rotation Rule, but when I ask her if she wants yogurt or cereal for breakfast she always says pancakes. How young is too young?"

Sound familiar? I get this kind of question all the time. The answer is: No child is too young to learn how to eat right.

Before you think I'm nuts, consider two things: 

  • Babies learn from an early age that their parents will come when they cry.
  • Research shows that children often learn bad eating habits, like emotional eating, as young as 2 or 3. (Read Using Sweets to Soothe the Soul.) If kids can learn bad habits at age 2, how can they be too young to learn good eating habits at age 2?

But here's the real reason that kids can't be too young to learn good eating habits...

Implementing techniques like the Rotation Rule shapes how PARENTS interact with their kids.

And it's shaping your interactions that ultimately teaches kids how to eat. (Even those who are pre-verbal or too young to have a conversation!)

Let's take a look at some interactions. You'll see what I mean.

When you have trouble getting your kids to accept the Rotation Rule, parents are thinking some version of the following:

  • "I've explained the Rotation Rule: We're not going to eat the same food two days in a row."
  • "My child doesn't go along with the rule. She must not be able to understand it."
  • "If she's too young, I should stop trying."

(Don't know what the Rotation Rule is? Click here.)

Here's the child's version of events:

  • "Mom explained something called The Rotation Rule."
  • "Mom offered me two choices for breakfast: yogurt or cereal."
  • "I said I want pancakes."
  • "Mom said I need to choose either yogurt or cereal."
  • "I said I want pancakes."
  • "Mom is getting irritated. She offered me yogurt or cereal...again."
  • "I said I still want pancakes. I started whining."
  • "Mom gave me pancakes."
  • "Yum! Hurray!"

I say, this child understands exactly what's going on. 

 It's just that she's learned a different lesson then the one mom intended. The child has learned:

  1. Hold out. 
  2. Make a fuss. 
  3. Wait long enough and you'lll your pancakes!

The disconnect between the lesson you think you're teaching and the lesson your kids are actually learning is the space where feeding problems crop up. 

For more on this topic, read Eating, Seen Through Your Child's Eyes.

I discuss all these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


The Power of the Imperfect Pretzel

Imperfect pretzels are so powerful they can turn normal kids into "crazies." But they can also turn your kids into empowered eaters.

But there's a twist: if you want to empower your kids you can't give in to their demands to be presented only with perfect pretzels. (I know, not giving in goes against the grain. Stick with me for a minute here.)

Some kids go absolutely nuts in the presence of Imperfect Pretzels.

"Ahhhhh. Take them away. Take them away!" 

You know what I'm talking about: Imperfect pretzels are cracked, not whole. As a result, they're totally offensive.

  • Maybe your "imperfect pretzel" is a waffle that hasn't been cut correctly.
  • Or it's a sandwich served with the crusts on. The horror!

It seems so easy to satisfy your child's eating idiosyncracies, and perhaps it feels a tad coercive not to. But serving only perfect pretzels teaches the wrong lessons.

Serving imperfect pretzels teaches kids that they're in charge of their own eating.

It's an effective way of saying, "You can choose whether or not to eat the pretzels."

Empowering kids by serving imperfect pretzels is counterintuitive.

It feels like giving in to your child's demands will empower her, but it doesn't. It simply reinforces a control struggle. It sends the message that you need her to eat. Therefore, you will provide food in whatever way she wishes.

In the process, it also limits your child by reinforcing the idea that he can (and should) only eat foods when they're presented in a certain way.

Think about how liberating choices are to children.

  • You can choose to eat only the whole pretzels if that's what you want to do.
  • You can tear the crusts off the sandwich, eat around them, or eat them. The choice is yours.
  • You can pick the mushrooms out of the stew, if you would like.

You can do this. You are able to do this. You are competent to do this.

Imperfect pretzels teach another very valuable lesson: foods that look different often taste the same.

Serving imperfect pretzels reduces the control struggle by setting a reasonable and appropriate boundary.

And it enables parents to be warm and compassionate at the same time.

Boundaries+compassion=authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting has been shown over and over to produce kids with healthy eating habits.

Does this mean you should never serve perfect pretzels? 

Absolutely not. Sometimes serving perfect pretzels— because you know your child likes them— is a great way to show respect. It's the difference between wanting to and having to.

For more on this topic read Cutting Toast Triangles & Cucumber Squares?


I discuss all these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~