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praising eating? reader question #1

Posted by on Jul 6, 2010 in Blog Posts | 1 comment


Here is the first question I chose to address from a reader…

“Lately I’ve been saying “good job!” to my 15-month-old during mealtimes. I know that’s probably not the best thing to say. I’m wondering what kinds of things should be coming out of my mouth. Should we even be commenting on our daughter’s eating at all? We mostly talk about other things while we eat, so it’s not like I’m hovering over her making comments about every little thing she does or doesn’t choose eat. :)”
S.H


Great question! Sounds like you’re doing a great job, and it can sometimes be tough with a little one who is learning to be part of the family at the table.
S.H, sounds like you are having meals and structure and that you are eating together. A tad of tweaking and you might feel more confident with what you are saying. You are also heading into the most challenging feeding phase (I call feeding the toddler, the “perfect storm”) where picky eating and the “terrible two” behaviors and power struggles can ruin the family table if you’re not prepared.

Lots of parents praise, cheer-lead, and oversell foods in an effort to get their children to eat more, or certain kinds of foods. One Dad described really making a big deal about how his daughter liked to try new things in an effort to get his son to try them too. It didn’t work, and on reflection, dad thought his son might have felt shamed by being compared, and also might have enjoyed the attention he got as the “picky one.”

When you wonder about what you might be doing or saying around feeding, a great question to ask yourself is, “What is my motivation?” (I still do this.) Are you praising behaviors and perhaps effort with a new utensil, or are you praising eating certain amounts or kinds of foods? Is your effort strengthening or undermining your roles with the division of responsibility? In other words are you trying to do her job with feeding- the how much and if from what you provide? Are you getting push-back from your efforts? Does it make you feel better or worse about feeding?

Praise, sticker charts, rewards for eating are forms of pressure and will make many kids less likely to try and like new foods. One mom described her son this way, The surest way to ruin anything for him was to try to lead him — he is a kid who wants to find his own way and will let us know if he needs our help. Even casually offering help might be enough to make him shut down.

It’s OK to comment on and praise manners. “I like how you asked for more potatoes so politely, here you go,” or “Mommy likes these beans too,” “Good job sitting so nicely,” or “thank you for not interrupting…” or “thanks for helping me lay the table.”

Phrases like, “What a good boy, you ate all your meat,” or “good job drinking all your milk, it will help your bones grow strong!” or “I’m so proud that you tried some broccoli!” can all feel like pressure to some kids and might make things worse. Also, be careful not to label your child as a “good,” “bad,” or “picky” eater, even if you think they aren’t listening.

Talk about your day, talk to each other, check in. (This will all get easier and way more fun the older your child gets!) Family meals are by far our favorite part of the day now.

I hope that answers your question, feel free to comment if you need more clarification…

Readers, what do you think?

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One Comment

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  1. ila

    This sounds like great advice! I totally understand why most parents find it difficult to stop praising or commenting on their children's eating – in some families (like mine) it is even acceptable to praise, criticise or generally comment on OTHER ADULTS' EATING. If my grandma was told to stop doing this, she wouldn't know what to talk about at mealtimes!