Is it just me, or before you had kids did you assume that they would just do everything you told them to?! Yeah, it doesn’t quite work that way, does it? 😉
Unfortunately for us parents, kids have a mind of their own.
And if there’s one thing that can really push a child who is already on the picky side of things to get even more selective about what they eat, it’s power struggles.
Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: Dinner is ready. You tell your child they have to come to the table and eat. You put the plate of food in front of them, and they barely look at it before they’re complaining about the meal or saying they don’t want it. You’re frustrated (understandably so!) but you calmly tell them that this is what is being served, and if they’re hungry they need to eat it. Your child then starts crying and says that they don’t like it and that they want something else. You dig in your heels and tell them that you won’t get them anything else. They say they won’t eat it. And back and forth it goes…until you’re ready to tear your hair out and your child is a sobbing mess.
Trust me, these types of power struggles are so common. We’re currently dealing with a LOT of power struggles with Maggie right now – she has a very stubborn personality (not to mention that she’s 2) and digs in her heels like nobody’s business.
You’re not a bad parent for getting frustrated. And you’re certainly normal for wanting your child to just eat what’s in front of them. The problem is, as parents we’re never going to *win* these power struggles. (Trust me, I’ve tried!)
A lot of the push-back you’re getting really boils down to the fact that your child feels like they have no control when it comes to eating and mealtimes. In fact, if you think about it, kids don’t have control over a lot of things in life, so they hang on for dear life to the few things they do have control over.
And what they eat (or don’t eat) is definitely one of them. Which means they’re going to do the exact opposite of what they think you want them to do.
I’m going to assume that instead of these back-and-forth battles at the table, you would prefer for your child to actually choose to eat their meal. And that’s the key to eliminating these types of power struggles – CHOICE!
Giving your child some choice will help them feel like they have some control in the situation. And when they feel in control, they’re going to be so much less likely to get into a power struggle with you.
Now I should clarify, I’m not talking about choice in WHAT is being served for dinner (that’s part of your role in the feeding relationship). However, finding ways to give them choice or to make decisions about other things before, during and even outside of the meal, will satisfy their need for control so they won’t be as likely to push-back about the the food – meaning there’s a better chance they will actually eat it!
Here are some examples of how you can use CHOICE to eliminate power struggles at the table:
Choice before they get to the table
- Ask your child whether they want to eat dinner now or after they play for 5 more minutes.
- Let them choose which bathroom they wash their hands in or what soap they want to use.
- Let them decide how to get to the table (“Should we stomp like a dinosaur or tiptoe like a mouse?”)
Choice when they get to the table
- Let your child choose which fork/cup/plate/bib they use (“Would you like the blue cup or the green cup?”)
- Let them decide who should say grace or sing a special song before the meal.
- When serving the food, ask “would you like a small taste or a big scoop?”
Choice outside of meals
- Have them suggest a “theme” (i.e. Mexican, Super Heroes, whatever!) and somehow incorporate that into the food choices or even allow them to dress up for the meal.
- Let them choose one meal to add to the menu for the week.
- Give them specific choices while grocery shopping (“Should we buy red peppers or yellow peppers?”)
These are just a few suggestions, but of course there are so many other ways we can empower kids with choice, so try and think about what will resonate most with your child.
Once you can them get them to a place where they feel like they aren’t being bossed around too much, those power struggles will soon be a thing of the past!
(P.S. I should mention that I find this strategy works really well in other areas where power struggles pop up. Like when I’m asking my kids to come upstairs for a bath – I’ll ask them what song they want to listen to during bath-time, what toy they want to bring into the bathtub from downstairs, or whether they want to run up the stairs 1 or 2 at a time. Anything to make them feel like they are in control of bath time instead of me. Sounds a bit silly, but it works!)