Kids fight with parents over food because parents fight with their kids over food.

This isn’t a blame-game going on. So hear me out. I’m making an argument about the lessons kids learn.

Have you ever stopped to think about all the ways you teach your kids to be controlling around food?

Probably not. The way most parents are controlling around food probably doesn’t feel that controlling. And it certainly doesn’t feel avoidable.

But if you think about the situation through your child’s eyes, I think you’ll see what I mean.

Without really meaning to, many parents control almost every aspect of their children’s eating.

We control what kids eat, when they eat, what order they eat their food in, how much they have to eat. No wonder that some kids start controlling you back!

Here’s a sample of the controlling conversation between a father and his 2-3 year old son that I overheard at a restaurant the other evening.

  • No, you can’t have that until you’ve had your veggie pouch. (I couldn’t see what that was, but I assumed it was some kind of snack food the father had brought to the restaurant.)
  • You have to have your milk before you drink your milkshake. (This one I didn’t understand.)
  • You’re going to have a hamburger.
  • Eat a few more bites.

Granted, there are many reasons to structure what and when children eat. 

And I’m NOT advocating that parents become permissive. I’m just saying that if you think about…

Everytime you interact with your children around food, you’re teaching them something about:

  • The food
  • How to interact with you around food

Control is the enemy. It teaches kids to be controlling back.

After all, young kids are in the business of learning to control their bodies and their environment.

Structure is the antidote to control.

Establishing rules and boundaries stops the fighting because it clearly delineates domains. Think of this as the car-seat law: After an initial outburst, kids don’t argue about the car seat because it doesn’t get them anywhere.

Then, kids start thinking about what they can do while they’re in the carseat!

Here are some ways to structure meals:

  • Use the Rotation Rule, don’t serve the same food 2 days in a row
  • Use the Eating Zones Rule, establish times for eating and times for not eating
  • Teach children a style of eating called One-One, so kids eat a little of everything before they finish anything

Structure provides the same directions as the controlling interaction, but it’s not controlling because it happens as a rule outside the interactions.

And then…

Within the structure give your children plenty of choices.

And make sure to give your kids plenty of choices around non-food related things too:

  • “Do you want to sit in this chair or that chair?”
  • “Do you want to put on your shoes now or in 5 minutes?”
  • “Do you want to put your shoes on your self right now or have Mommy do it right now?”

Properly empowering children takes the food out of the fight.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~