The Family Tableby Dr. Holt on May 15, 2019
Setting Expectations: WD-40 For Future Choices
What a gift parents give to their children when they lovingly and firmly set expectations about present and future behavior. Nowhere does that count more than at The Family Table. Comprising a healthy, vibrant nutrition plan for your family can literally be feast or famine when food choices are woven into the context of family meals.
No parent would starve their kids by depriving them of needed calories, vitamins, and energy sources. However, food choices which harden into individual demands can make it difficult to convert daily nutrition intake into long-term healthy growth and development for any child that turns family meals into manipulative negotiations.
Understanding the demands and normal toddler challenges to your role as a parent positions you to manage future challenges which will inevitably surface as your child acquires the savvy and communication skills of a debate champion.
The Toddler Hammer
“I will refuse to eat unless my demands are met.” “If you do not feed me what I want, you will feel my fury.”
Translated, that means a major tantrum which targets a mom at her most vulnerable position. How could you even think of not feeding your child at a time when he or she is set to take off like a rocket on both their growth and development chart?
Moreover, if this guilt-generating assault occurs in front of key family members, like grandparents, by definition the impact doubles. The impact triples if they happen to be paternal grandparents with dad at the table.
TMD-Too Much Drama
These moments can define how you as a parent set limits. Food tantrums are a great opportunity to model how you manage the unpleasant and intrusive demands of a healthy, challenging toddler. But you must be carefully strategic. It is important to be intentional in setting boundaries that you have thought through and discussed with your spouse (and extended family if they are present on a routine basis).
Food intake cannot be used to manipulate nutritional choices. If you allow a tantrum to dictate what your toddler eats at a given meal, you allow future meal planning to be controlled by the whims of a self-centered, volatile saboteur. Toddlers epitomize the irrational and consistently inconsistent emotions which often drive their behavior. That is why pediatricians focus on ignoring tantrums and allowing them to burn out on their own. If your toddler refuses to eat, you are not depriving them of healthy calories. That is their choice, and choices have consequences.
Model the choices you would like your kids to make. Parents who eat very few fruits or vegetables create behavioral incongruence that kids will intuitively absorb and use to guide their demands e.g. daily mac and cheese versus cooked carrots and other boiled or baked, lightly seasoned veggies (with occasional mac and cheese as a family treat).
Incorporate likes and dislikes into family meal planning if possible. But if your child has been exposed to chicken nuggets, that does not mean that you put that on the family menu. You control the choices which are converted into family meals. With certain foods, no means NO.
Your response to food tantrums may mean taking the toddler away from the kitchen and into their crib if the drama evolves into an extended fit. When it is over, your toddler gets a warm hug– and his food warmed up if he chooses to eat. If not, that is his or her choice not to eat.
Your ability to set expectations and to do so in a cheerfully firm way sets the tone and atmosphere for making not only healthy food choices but also healthy family choices. Eating well and sharing family experiences combine to make family meals a time to promote a family’s healthy growth and development.