Yesterday we had a wonderful seminar called Why Some Kids Eat Peas and Other Don’t.  One question that came up from a few people was whether or not they should honor their children’s requests to have food cut in particular ways. I know this is something that many parents ponder.

Well, it depends.  What lessons are you teaching your children and what habits do they have?

The issue is whether the requests are to make the food more fun, but your children will eat the food whether it is cut a particular way or not.  If so, then fancy shapes are fine – feel free to cut-away.  However, if your child won’t eat something unless it is cut into a particular shape, or if the crusts are cut off, etc. then you have a problem. Here’s why.

When children demand their food be cut in a particular way before they’ll eat it you’re dealing with a control situation.  And, while it may seem like no big deal to give your child this measure of control – it is only cutting up the bread after all – it is a bad idea.   Here’s why: For one thing, you don’t want to be the situation where your child won’t eat something unless it’s cut up appropriately.  What will you do when you eat out?  Eat at grandmas?  At parties?

Just as importantly, giving into your child’s demands for control only leads to more struggles for control.  After all, their need for control is insatiable.  Plus, once they get control they don’t recognize that they have it. Instead of feeling great about their victory, kids search for more control.  That’s why parents whose children will only eat a handful of foods always end up saying that the circle of foods keeps getting smaller.  More and more control.

It’s important to note that I’m not saying that you don’t want to give your child control, because you do.  In fact, doing so can solve so many problems.  But here’s the kicker — you need to redirect your child’s incursion for control into an appropriate form of control.  “Do you want to eat this fruit or that fruit?”  “Do you want to eat in this chair or that chair?”  You get my point.

So what should you do instead of giving in?  Teach your child that shape doesn’t influence taste — i.e. broken and unbroken pretzels all taste the same.  You do this by, 1) saying this repeatedly and  2) by telling your child you will cut the sandwich into the desired shape next time. Today the sandwich stays the way you made it. Honoring this promise will make your child feel good, give some measure of control, and get you out of today’s sticky situation.  (And when you do make the sandwich as promised — which of course you will do, right? — remember to remind your child that you promised to do it and you did it. This will ensure they believe you next time you make a promise.)

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.