This is a guest blog post by Dr. Dina R. Rose
Sometimes I think parents and toddlers come from different planets, and speak different languages. That’s why we interpret the world so differently.
It’s the parenting version of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
- You see foods: applesauce, yogurt, peanut butter and jelly.
- They experience flavors and textures: Sweet, sweet, sweet. Gooey, gooey, gooey.
- You appeal to health concerns: Don’t you want to grow up to be big and strong?
- They don’t give a damn. Read How to Help Your Kids Hate Spinach.
- You think your strategies offer friendly encouragement.
- They see pressure.
Sometimes the disconnect between what parents think and what kids believe is extreme.
In one study of parents and their 5-year-old daughters:
- 26% of parents said that they pressured their daughter to eat.
- 61% of the girls said their parents used pressure tactics to get them to eat.
That’s an astonishing divide.
“Does your Mommy make you eat all of the food on your plate?” Your child is most likely to say, “yes”— even if you disagree.
I’m not advocating that you capitulate to your child’s perspective.
That would lead to anarchy. But, you can’t ignore how your child interprets the world either. Her perspective matters. It matters a lot.
So many eating problems arise because the lessons parents think they’re teaching their children aren’t the lessons their children are actually learning.
- You think you’re teaching your kids to appreciate vegetables.
- Your kids are learning to hate them even more.
Read Conscious Parenting.
- You think you’re providing a variety of foods.
- Your kids are experiencing a monotonous diet.
Read Variety Masquerade.
- You think you are teaching your kids not to waste food.
- Your kids are learning to keep eating, even after they’re full.
There is pretty compelling evidence that the most effective parenting strategies are those that foster an emotional climate with clear limits established in a warm and compassionate way.
When it comes to eating this means you set up a structure that dictates the big decisions, and then let your children participate in making some of the smaller (less important) decisions.
- You decide to implement The Rotation Rule: No identical foods two days in a row.
- Your kids decide: French toast or eggs today…and then get the other (or something else) tomorrow.
If you’re not familiar with The Rotation Rule read: House Building 101 and Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day. For more on setting up a structure read The BIG Fix: What to do When Feeding Strategies Fail and The Goldilocks Approach.
It is not easy to see the world through your toddler’s eyes.
But you have done it before. Remember crawling around on all fours to identify potential deathtraps when you were baby proofing? It’s kind of like that.
So rumble around in your child’s head for awhile and experience her experiences.
When you see the world through your child’s eyes, you begin to understand why your lessons aren’t always hitting home. You can also figure out how to fix them.
Remember, it’s not what you feed, but what you teach, that matters.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source: Carper, J. L., J. O. Fisher, and L. L. Birch. 2000. “Young Girls’ Emerging Dietary Restraint and Disinhibition Are Related to Parental Control in Child Feeding.” Appetite 35: 121-29.
Dr. Dina Rose is a sociologist, foodie and mom. In It’s NOT About Nutrition: The Art & Science of Teaching Kids to Eat Right, Dina combines her professional expertise on socialization, her knowledge about nutrition, parenting and food psychology research, with the practical skills she has gained from talking to, interviewing and coaching hundreds of parents.