Have picky eating power struggles sent you into a tailspin or worry and frustration?
When it comes to mealtimes, power struggles can happen on the daily during toddlerhood.
Yup, I get it. I’ve been there too!
It’s possible to move beyond what feels like an inevitable power struggle.
Your toddler has a strong desire to exert his newly discovered will and independence. This is a good thing. (What!? I know! But it’s true.) This is one of the main developmental tasks of toddlerhood. He is discovering that he is his own person (and sometimes don’t we all just want macaroni and cheese and nothing else?).
Yet, we’re the parents. We feel like it’s our job to be sure that they eat healthy. So, what do we do?
Here are 6 strategies for navigating mealtimes and diffusing power struggles with your independent foodie.
1. Pause and Take a Deep Breath. Whether you like it or not, your child is in charge of her own body which means you can’t force her to eat. The best you can do is influence her and that’s not possible when you are flustered. The more nonchalant and objective you can keep your tone the better. Keep your energy even keeled so you can remain calm and in control of yourself and what you are communicating. When we are upset, it ratchets up the situation ten fold in the blink of a toddler eye!
2. Validate Feelings. Validate your toddler’s feelings by reflecting back what he is saying. “You don’t like peas. Or You don’t want this dinner” This helps them feel understood and lowers their frustration level. When you validate his feelings you are getting on his team and eliminating the power struggle.
3. Get Curious. After you validate your toddler’s feelings as a question. This further helps then feel understood. “What don’t you like about peas?” Or “What were you expecting for dinner?” Or “What don’t you like about dinner?”. Sometimes, listening is enough to diffuse the situation. It may be something like, “my chicken is touching my green beans”. Get on their team by listening to their fears and validating them. Reflect back to them what they are saying. If you can show them that you’re hearing them, they are more apt to listen to you.
4. Explore. One of the best ways to help your toddler discover new foods is through exploration with her senses. Focusing on touch (yes, this could get a bit messy), sight and smell before taste can get your toddler more familiar with the food and open to trying it. Why? One of the biggest developmental tasks of toddlerhood is exploration. Try encouraging her by asking questions with curiosity and help your child explore their food. Colors, textures, it’s all a part of the process. Which brings me to my next point…
5. Focus on the Process. Something magical happens when we focus on the process instead of the outcome – we are able to let go of some of the fear/anxiety driving our behavior. Being attached to the outcome hinders our ability to be in the present moment and truly understanding and responding to another individual. Your toddler can sense if you are trying to make them do something. Try not to get hung up on the eating. Letting go of your agenda and focusing on the process will help you stay in the present moment and facilitate discovery.
6. Keep the Interaction Positive. Remember, just as adults, some days toddlers are less hungry than other days. It’s more about what you toddler eats in a 24hr period than what they eat at each sitting. Keep it all in perspective. It’s really about their diet as a whole and some meals just aren’t going to be gobbled up. Some days children just aren’t hungry and other days they are going through a growth spurt and eat your entire pantry in one day. If you’re really worried after a few days, be sure to take notes on their food intake and then give your doctor a call. It helps to have a diary when voicing food concerns.
Above all else, remember: This. Is. Normal. And Expected. You aren’t failing at parenting.
Food aversions and power struggles are a challenging part of toddlerhood. Tune into your toddler and try to look at the situation through their eyes.
You may be surprised by what you see!
What would happen if you let go of achieving a specific outcome at mealtimes and spent more attention on the process in the present moment? What would be possible?
Every child is unique and there isn’t a one size fits all way forward. If you are struggling with your toddler’s picky eating and you’re not sure what to do next, apply for a Clarity Session to learn how I can help you overcome this challenge.