It’s no secret that vegetables are healthy and everywhere we look, someone has a vested interest in getting kids to eat healthy. There’s just one problem. “Getting” someone to do something they don’t want to is pressure, and using pressure to get kids to eat anything rarely ever works.
I know I need to avoid pressuring TJ to eat. I cannot, in any way, express even the slightest displeasure with his eating ability or food selection. His range of acceptable foods has quadrupled over the past two years, and he’s now quite comfortable in social eating situations. He has developed a good relationship with food, which is why I was surprised to hear him say, “Mom, I’ll try a carrot if you give me $10.”
It may not have been a carrot, but it was definitely some food I would be really happy to see TJ eating. Is this pressure? It was, after all, entirely his idea…
There are three big clues in this proposal:
- “I’ll do something to please you,” and in exchange, “you’ll do something that makes me happy.” Putting him in that predicament forces him to either win or lose my approval, and quite possibly all the progress we’ve made so far with eating. My love for my son is unconditional and certainly not dependent on what he does or does not eat;
- It’s not his job to choose what to eat;
- It’s not my job to make him eat.
Even though it was his idea, and it was a very tempting offer, it is, indeed, pressure. And it is sure to backfire spectacularly.
But there it was, hanging in the air. Did he understand the terms of the agreement or had he bitten off more than he could chew?
“How about if next time we have carrots, you can try one because you want to.”
“How about for…” dramatic negotiatory pause, “$10?”
“How about $5?” I countered, because if he was serious, this was easy money.
“Nope. $10 or no deal.”
I had a feeling there wasn’t a hope in Hades that a carrot would have be bitten, chewed and swallowed with joy for ten dollars, or any amount of money for that matter. Our little bidding war only provided TJ with an out for something he really wasn’t ready to do.
You might be saying “$10 to get him to try a carrot is a bargain,” and I can’t disagree. A year ago, he wouldn’t even consider a new food for less than a gazillion-gabillion dollars! Ten bucks is a serious sale!! But this wasn’t really about carrots. This was TJ’s way of letting me know he felt he was disappointing me with his eating. Somehow, I had let pressure creep into feeding and I had to figure out where that bugger was hiding.
Children communicate their perceptions of pressure in unique ways. I took TJ’s proposal as constructive criticism and decided to step up my responsibility with feeding.
I made sure he always had enough to eat.
I made sure there were no comments about his eating.
I tried to serve more meals that included more safe foods so the food he put on his plate looked more like everyone else’s.
There have been no more proposals to buy my approval with new food trials, and we’ve since had a few self-initiated samplings (at no-charge). Progress is slow in the feeding trenches, but it is progress nonetheless.
It is very tempting to focus on the future goal of a balanced and varied diet, which often leads to pressuring kids to eat healthy foods now. It’s actually more productive to focus on creating a supportive feeding environment now, one that gives kids permission to try new foods when they are ready.
Sometimes that means accepting a little criticism instead of a bribe.
1st. I have to thank you once more for this blog. It gave me the encouragement I needed to seek professional help. Let’s just say that when I read the title, Mealtime Hostage, I knew it was talking about me. My daughter has started feeding therapy and we are learning to take the pressure away. It is hard! sometimes I am so mad at myself for slipping. I also want to share the little accomplishments. We went to pick her food for her therapy session. She was to try strawberries. The therapist requested, fresh, chewy, dried, and in yogurt. My daughter, who refuses to eat all but two types of fruits, asked me to also buy strawberry ice cream! She didn’t gobble it up, but she did try it!
I just read your post on your recent therapy session! A food scientist approach is lovely when the child enjoys the process. It sounds like you have found a fantastic therapist who connects well with your daughter. That alone is already a huge piece of progress. Much love sent for your family’s future journey with food. 🙂