Have you ever noticed that kids always want to eat what they want to eat.

They almost never want to eat what you want them to eat.

Parents and kids are almost always using different decision rules to decide the menu. 

  • You: Something nutritious, usually. Something fun, occasionally. Or at least that’s the idea.
  • Your kids: Something familiar, always. Something fun, always. Something you hadn’t planned, always.

Stopping the endless whining and begging for treats—or anything that you aren’t serving at that exact moment—is something you have to do before you’ll be able to introduce new foods.

You and your kids have to be on the same team. My 10 steps to stop the whining are listed below.

This is the second week in my series The Step-by-Step, Blow-by-Blow Guide to Introducing New Foods that’s Guaranteed to Change How Your Kids Eat.

If you are new to this series, start here.

Last week I talked about the importance of having The Conversation with your kids. The Conversation helps to rebuild trust, reduce pressure, validate your children’s feelings…

Stopping all the whining will clear your mental space. It also will provide the kind of structure kids crave. (It may seem like they want to whine as much as they’d like, but really, they’d rather be less out of control.)

1) Kids whine for sweets and treats because it’s a strategy that works.

Let’s face it. Kids don’t whine when it doesn’t work, at least occasionally. Occasionally is the key word here. Intermittent reinforcement.

The bottom line here is that kids need to know the rules. And the rules have to be the kind you can enforce consistently.

2) 10 Steps to Stop the Whining

  1. Decide if your kids can have treats once a day, twice a day, once a week, once a month.
  2. Communicate the rule to your kids very clearly.
  3. Make sure sweets and treats are served in small, kid-sized portions.
  4. Let your kids decide when they have their treat. It doesn’t matter if it is before breakfast. (If this makes your heart stop, keep reading.)
  5. Give your kids some kind of ticket to turn in when they want their treat. You can also use a magnet on the refrigerator or put an “x” on the calendar. It doesn’t matter what the marker is, but there has to be a visual marker for young children.
  6. If your kids ask (or whine) for another treat after they have used their ticket, remind them they they decided to have a treat earlier in the day. Show them the marker as proof.
  7. Sympathize with your children’s disappointment. Point out that saving tickets is a better strategy than using them up first thing.
  8. Curtail excessive whining. (See below)
  9. If you are at a special event and your kids has used their tickets, make an exception. Explain why you are making the exception.
  10. If you know a special event is coming up…remind your kids in the morning that they might want to save their ticket until later.

3) When the Sweets Strategy Fails to Stop the Whining…

Excessive whining is a behavioral problem that you can correct.

  • Lightweight Response: I can’t give you the sweet now, even if I wanted to, because I don’t want you to learn that whining is how you get your way.
  • Middleweight Response: I’m sorry you are upset. Let’s talk about your feelings, but the whining has to stop.
  • Heavyweight Response: You’ve already asked me for the treat and I’ve already answered you. If you continue to whine  you will have a time out (or whatever you normally do for discipline).

The more structure you put in place, so your children know exactly what the behavioral expectations are, the less stress there will be around food.

And you need less stress to introduce new foods. Questions? Just ask.

See you tomorrow.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Read the next installment in the series here.