Take a moment to think about your last dinner with your child or children. If you can’t remember when you last sat down with your child or children at dinner, then we need to have a whole other conversation! What were some of the conversation topics you had? Having a nice, pleasant dinner with our kids can be tough and some might even say impossible depending on where your child is in their eating journey.
When we dine with our children, we tend to focus on the food being eaten (or not eaten), the bites being taken or their behavior. “Sit down”, “Eat your food”, “Try this” and not “What is your favorite color?” or “Can we name 10 things that are red?” This can make dinner unpleasant not just for the parents but for the kids too. The language we use at dinner time and the conversations that happen are so important to set the way that mealtimes feel. Your children are listening.
Remembering Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (Please refer back to my previous blog post on Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility) can help you understand where your words fall into the division of responsibility. Your job is not to tell your child to eat or take a bite but to sit back and enjoy the food that you prepared or bought. You have done your job by offering your child food that they can be successful in eating and now it is your child’s job to eat. You might need to offer a slight reminder if your child’s attention begins to wander but you do not need to repeatedly say “Eat.” Other language can be felt as pressure too for a child such as, “Yum, this broccoli is so good. Don’t you want to try some? Why don’t you try some?” or giving lots of praise when they do take a bite. You can enjoy it yourself, change-up the flavors and offer broccoli often. It also allows kids, as Ellyn Satter explains, to “sneak up on food.” This is what happens when you have been serving spinach casserole for 3 years and your 5 year old asks for a serving and eats 3 bites, then the next time he eats two servings. If you are thinking right now that your child will not eat unless you constantly tell them to, I challenge you to change your language for 1 week. Still expect good behavior and table manners but don’t comment on the food. See how you feel and see how your child reacts.
It may take some meals to get used to not focusing on how much or what your child is eating but it will make everyone so much more relaxed and happier at dinner.