Who is in control in your household? There is a clear hierarchy in my house. Colin and Cailya are at the top, Cassie is a strong second, and if you squint hard enough, you can see me way down at the bottom. A perfect example of this hierarchy is watching the dynamic at our kitchen table. Although we serve our meals on our kitchen table, sometimes it feels more like a poker table.
Perhaps you have had your fair share of table-side negotiations, bluffs, and power struggles with your own children. Introduction of new foods, designated mealtimes, and eating out are all opportunities for kids to exercise control. Rather than approach these impasses in a confrontational way, you can take the opportunity to teach your kids important life skills like decision making, compromise, and independence.
To gain more insight into the psychology of kids, I interviewed the brilliant cognitive behavioral psychologist, Dr. Stewart Zelman (biography below). Here is what he had to say:
Chris : What should I do when my kid refuses to try something new?
Dr. Zelman : New foods can be an opportunity for a child to exert power and control in their lives. Children who are managed by teachers and parents, or older siblings, find that this is one of their few opportunities to be in charge. Look at the bigger picture and see if your child has the chance to take charge of his or her life in other areas. Then a request that they try one bite of the new food will not be so much of a struggle. Also, it is helpful to create a culture that the whole family tries a new food once a week. Implement the new food you want your child to try during mealtime and let them be a part of the meal preparation. They will want to eat what they helped to create.
Chris : What should parents do when kids no longer want to eat their favorite foods?
Dr. Zelman : Perhaps your child has grown tired of eating that food. This is a good opportunity to introduce new foods to your kids. Parents can try to remove some of their favorite foods for a while and then try to reintroduce the favorite foods at a later point. We can all grow tired of eating the same foods regularly. Toddlers are still developing and may be developing new food interests as well. Allow them to explore their eating options and never forget to make mealtime fun and interesting.
Chris : What suggestions do you have for parents trying to "reason" with their kids?
Dr. Zelman: Explain to children that it is their choice whether or not they would like to eat. However, there are certain foods that they should eat and certain other foods that are not good for them. Give children some choices and some control over what they can eat, so that they are equipped to make good decisions in the future about their eating habits. For example, if they do not want to eat their dinner that night, explain that if they are not hungry, they do not have to eat but that they cannot have any snacks or dessert in place of dinner. If they are truly hungry, they will eat dinner. Also, explaining to a child that you would like them to eat what has been prepared so that they can be healthy and grow strong can be helpful.
Chris : What tips do you have for taking kids out to eat?
Dr. Zelman : Make sure that you are taking your child to a family restaurant that is kid-friendly. Never bring a tired child out to eat because this will increase the likelihood that they will be fussy and picky. Be sure that the establishment has a kids menu or that you can order a smaller portion size. Some menus are over-spiced or too salty for a child's taste. Review the menu before your child does, and pick out the ones you find to be most healthy or appropriate. Give your child an option out of the ones you think will be best for them. This way, they will be eating healthy and they will also be a part of the decision-making.
In the following video, I play food poker with Colin. See who wins:
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In the above video, I used recipes from the following sites: