For many families, every meal feels less like a Norman Rockwell painting and more like a battle of epic proportions. Mealtime is one of the biggest stressors for parents, especially those with little ones. Why? Because kids are winning! Think about it – eating is one of the few things kids can legitimately control. Hard as we try – we can’t make them eat. We can, however, help children make healthier, empowered choices – creating a win for parents and kids.
Ready to “turn the tables” and put the mealtime melodrama to rest? Try these five strategies:
- First and foremost: stop. Stop coaxing, cajoling, rewarding, threatening, bribing and lecturing. All of those well-intended tactics actually add fuel to the mealtime fire and send the message to your kids that you are highly invested in what and how much they eat! Instead, make mealtime their problem, not yours. Your attitude of indifference is absolutely essential to diffuse the power struggle around mealtime. Read on for your new plan, one without battle lines or frustration, just clear direction.
- Let your kids know that they are growing up and their bodies need the right kind of nourishment. Explain that the choice of whether or not to eat is theirs – but there won’t be a special meal made, snacks to be had, or you on hand as a short order cook when they do decide they are hungry.
- Set your family up for success: get kids involved in menu selection, teach them how to prepare simple parts of the meal, and don’t allow grazing on snacks or juice throughout the day. (Your new plan works best if they are actually hungry at mealtime!)
- Prepare a healthy meal, with at least one thing you know your kids will eat, then leave the decision up to them. If they eat, great, if not, they’ll be fine until the next meal. Will you be faced with a whine of “I’m starving” at bedtime if they don’t? Probably. Will you feel a pang of guilt or two? More than likely. But take comfort: you provided a reasonable meal option, you empowered them to make an important choice (without the power struggle), and you taught them the value of cause and effect. That’s a trifecta in the parenting department!
- Lastly, stick to it. Don’t rescue with a snack – even a healthy one. And don’t launch into any “I told you so’s.” (That makes YOU the bad guy. Remember – we’re trying to make eating your child’s problem, not yours.) Just calmly and lovingly offer a glass of water and assure them they’ll be fine until breakfast – or the next meal.
It may take a time or two (or three) for this strategy to work. Stay the course. Know that you are doing the right thing. Your child will not only not starve in the interim, but will learn to make good choices over time. That’s something to feel good about!
About the Author
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.