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Question: Can I make my toddler eat? Answer: Nope.

Updated: Mar 21, 2020

In these chaotic, unprecedented and scary times we keep coming back to a basic truth:

There is A LOT that we have no control over. There are many things you may wish you had control over (like what's going to happen with the Corona virus and the economy or whether or not your son eats his dinner) but no amount of wishing will actually give you that control over any of those things. And when we focus on things outside our control it just makes us feel powerless. The more you try, the more desperate you will feel, which distracts us from the fact that we are not powerless. We have full control over some things: Our responses and our daily actions.

And when we choose to take hold of that control and narrow our attentions onto those things where we can affect change, we tend to feel calmer, happier and healthier. And the better we feel, the more capacity we have to get things done, take care of ourselves, and think of proactive solutions to challenging problems.

While we're definitely talking about what's going on globally, one of our favorite things about the simple occupation of family mealtime is the fact that it's a microcosm of those same, bigger and more global issues. There’s a lot we cannot control during meals with our kids. There are certain parts we can control and by focusing our attention on those parts, while taking a deep breathe and ignoring or letting go of the parts we can’t control, we grow our sense of enjoyment, well being and efficacy. And in a lovely twist, enjoying your own meal is actually hugely impactful on your child’s interest in the food you serve, which makes him/her more likely to taste these foods.

Mealtime is deceptive in that we may think (especially before having kids) that we do have some measure of control over whether a child eats and how much. We police meals, saying things like, “just 2 more bites!” Or we jump through hoops to make a special meal we really hope our child will eat which makes us feel we have a lot of control over whether or not the child eats. But when we do this we run into 2 big issues-

1. It distracts us from enjoying our own meal and modeling that for our child

2. If your child actually obeys you, it reinforces the idea that he should look to you to tell him when to eat and how much to eat rather than trusting his own body. OR If your child doesn’t obey you, it creates a battle that you can’t win.

We can't say this more firmly, you will not help your child build strong, healthy and independent eating patterns until you let go of trying to control the parts that you can’t control- whether or not your child eats anything at all and how much he/she chooses to eat at a meal.

The hopeful part is that there are SO many other parts of mealtimes with kids that we as parents CAN control. Our favorite is the social environment that the parent brings through their attitude and connection with the child. You have the power to show up angry and distant or happy to be there for each meal.

Focus on what you can control at meals

Our other favorite is the routine that the parent sets which helps to get the child to the table hungry and calm. These routines build consistency and set the tone for a successful meal. What is included in the routine is based on our family values and non-negotiable rules. These definitely need a whole post on their own though to describe how to use them to take control during mealtimes of the right areas!

Share with us-

How do you respond when you feel out of control? What do you do to help yourself feel more in control (at meals with your child and in general!)?

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