Control around food is almost always expressed as if it’s a ball being thrown around.
First the parents have the power ball: “You will eat the meatloaf I made or no dessert and no tv.”
Then, the kids have the power ball: “No, I want chicken nuggets. I’d rather starve than eat anything else.”
Some parents think they’re not playing ball at all. But, if you always make your children’s favorite foods before they demand them your kids own the ball. And they’re not sharing.
Power was the underlying theme of my last post, Kid-Approved Meals. Here we’re going to address it directly because power struggles underlie a lot of your food struggles.
If you’ve read any parenting literature you’re probably familiar with the four parenting styles.
- Authoritarian: Children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents, and the children aren’t given much if any input.
- Authoritative: Parents establish a strong, but compassionate structure. Children are engaged.
- Permissive: Often associated with indulgent. Very warm and compassionate with little or no structure.
- Uninvolved or Neglectful:
Parents often get stuck going back and forth being authoritarian and being permissive because they (mistakenly) believe that these are the only choices they have.
You start with the style you’re most comfortable with. When it doesn’t work, though, most parents flip to the other style. When that approach doesn’t work any better—their kids still arent’ trying new foods, and still aren’t eating more vegetables—parents ultimately end up reverting to their original position. Back and forth they go.
(Note to public health professionals: It’s not like parents aren’t trying!)
The solution is to find the middle ground: authoritative parenting.
Authoritative parents are successful because they create an eating structure that is firm but flexible. And that’s the winning ticket.
1) Set some guidelines to form a structure: I recommend you consider using the Rotation Rule and establish regular times for eating and for no-eating. I call these Eating Zones.
2) Offer your children choices within that structure. This produces shared control.
3) Engage in Sensory Education.
4) Stop looking for the “perfect” food. It doesn’t exist. What kids will eat has more to do with their brains than their taste buds. Read You Can’t Feed Your Way Out of a Picky Eating Problem.
5) Recognize that taste preferences are formed more than they’re found. This is how Indian kids end up liking Indian food and Mexican kids end up liking Mexican food. Read Food Culture and What it Means to be “Child-Friendly.”
6) Remember, young kids don’t have stable taste preferences, so what they like actually can change from day-to-day. Expect some bumps in the road.
For more on this, read The Goldlocks Approach.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~