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Temperament clues: Why the ‘no thank you bite’ works for some and not others

Posted by on Jan 8, 2013 in Blog Posts | 17 comments

SledOver the winter break, I went sledding with my family. I watched an exasperated father waiting while his young son tried to climb up the slippery steps, sliding down repeatedly. Every time the dad tried to lend a hand, or a suggestion, the boy shrieked, “I do it!!!!!!!” while  swatting the father away. While folks waited somewhat patiently behind him, we watched this happen over and over; both boy and father becoming increasingly upset until the dad finally picked him up and trotted up the hill. At the top, it took some time for them both to calm down. Meanwhile just behind us, a boy of about the same age held his mother’s hand with a big smile as she helped him up the steps. Her suggestion that he hold on to the railing was met with instant compliance as he grabbed on, more secure in his footing.

You can imagine how this relates to feeding children. Those temperament traits that delight and frustrate don’t simply disappear when children sit down at the family table. In fact, family meals, with the expectation of some sitting and cooperating and not spoiling the meal for others, often amplifies behavioral struggles. Add on the pressure many parents feel to get protein, rainbows, and fruits and veggies into kids while keeping out high-fructose corn-syrup, food dyes, fat, salt, sugar, and processed foods, and it’s a recipe for turmoil.

So when you read a book that recommends a “no-thank-you bite” or some mommy blogger swears her kids love kale chips because she makes them try a little of everything, remember that temperament plays a huge role. While one child may happily comply with the no-thank-you bite and may even say, “Wow, you’re right, I do like Kohlrabi!” that same ‘one bite’ may result in a 90 minute stand-off for another child. So if dinner feels like “hostage negotiating” (as one workshop attendee said) most nights, take heart. It doesn’t have to be so hard. I have many clients with three kids, two eat just fine, and the third for whatever reason just doesn’t like food, won’t eat, never seems hungry, is ready to fight to not have to taste that piece of whatever that he may have eaten happily last week…

The Division of Responsibility takes the temperament piece off the table. You don’t have to fight or force. In fact, the less you do, the better your child will eat. You can feed all your kids the same way— your adventurous or cautious eater, your stocky or lean child, your adopted and biological children…

I thank my lucky stars on a regular basis that I don’t get into food fights with my kiddo: the girl who would throw markers if I tried to help her draw something (even if she asked for my help) or pushed me away when I tried to help her on her ice-skates that first time, or who bristles at any suggestion when she is putting together a puzzle or some other craft.

What do you think? Do you notice certain traits that carry over into feeding?


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