If we were to open a book titled Parenting 101, I think you will agree that the main chapter would be focussed on the daily challenge of feeding our children healthy meals. The dining table can become a battlefield for even the calmest of families with the abundance of ‘junk’ food’ to compete with, which certainly doesn’t help our cause.
It’s here we often bring out the so-called ‘big guns’ in hope of enticing our kids to eat with relish whatever we dish up. It’s easy to unconsciously spit out ‘token phrases’ that were repeated in our youths, so what is the better alternative to aid with the mealtime fiasco? How can we redesign common mealtime phrases – that aren’t doing their intended job anyways?
Though our goal is to encourage eating through positive reinforcement through words of praise, sometimes it goes pear-shaped with our kids hearing something completely different…most likely leaving us better off not saying anything at all.
How to Redesign Common Mealtime Phrases
1. The labeller
Parent – “My child is such a picky eater.”
The child hears – “I am a picky eater, I am a picky eater, I will always be a picky eater. “
Try this instead – Try to avoid labelling your child, especially when they can hear you! Labels can become subconscious prophecies and often make the matter worse in the long run. Keep things positive and highlight the healthy things they do eat.
2. When is full, full?
Parent – “Have a few more mouthfuls please before you leave the table. “
The child hears – “Only my parents can decide for me when I have had enough to eat. “
Try this instead – “There is no more food now until breakfast (or next meal, whatever that is) so make sure you are filling up now and getting enough to eat.” Over and out.
3. The bargainer
Parent – “If you eat all your veggies you can have some ice-cream.”
The child hears – “These veggies are just an obstacle I have to get through to get to the good stuff. “
Try this instead – Talk about healthy eating and make eating vegetables a positive experience through role-play, games and exciting meals.
4. The reverse psychology treatment
Parent – “Your sister/brother is such a good eater; look at them eating all their meal. “
The child hears – “I am a crap eater; I’ll never be as good as my sister/brother. “
Try this instead – Don’t feel you can’t praise the other child but just explain to the non-eater that it takes time to get used to certain tastes.
5. The art of re-wording
Parent – “We don’t have lollies all the time because they are bad for us. “
The child hears – “Lollies are yummy so bad means yummy! “
Try this instead – “Lollies are not good for our teeth and something we only eat at special times.”
6. The giver innerer
Parent – “If you’re not going to eat that I will make you something else. “
The child hears – “Yay, I never have to try this unusual/non-favourite food because mum will always make me something else. “
Try this instead – “We all eat the same meal in our house, and we will have one of your favourite meals another night. “
7. The rewarder
Parent – “I’ll buy an ice-cream for you if you’re good “
The child hears – “I’ll only be good so I can get an ice-cream. “
Try this instead – Try to leave food out of rewards. Rewarding with food can often lead to a poor food = reward = makes me feel better relationship, that can then lead to binge eating and dieting as they get older. Use other rewards such as stickers, family time, one on one time with mum or dad, a special day out or even a small toy they’ve been dreaming about.