Regulating a toddlers food intake is a massive headache for most parents. The moment the toddler experiences his or hers first chocolate food or candy, that’s it! They want more and they want it now. But we being the responsible party believe it’s our duty to say “No!”, “Enough is enough!”, “Eat your greens!” Of course they battle with us, and some parents resort to spanking, others timeouts, and then others “Oh screw it, eat whatever you want!”
Why is it such a headache though? On the surface that’s a very easy question to answer. They’re young and they don’t understand it’s bad for them. They’re like
flesh chocolate eating zombies where reason and comprehension are non-existent, so we must take forceful action so they don’t engorge themselves with every conceivable teeth-rottening, stomach-churning food.
A Different Approach
Dayna Martin inspired my husband and I to take a new approach with our toddler. Rather than engaging in a food battle with our strongly spirited two year old, we simply stopped telling her ‘No.’ If she wanted chocolate, we let her have it. If she wanted to buy some chocolate at the checkout counter at the grocery store, we let her. If she wanted to eat chocolate before dinner, we let her. Obviously the battles ended, but did she became a chocolate-crazed maniac? No! What we always feared before, didn’t actually happen.
When she realized there was no longer a battle and the decision was entirely hers, she didn’t engorge herself. She actually desired to eat it less. In the same exact way that adults may indulge in junk food from time to time, they do the same. Strangely enough, they’re actually quite adult in their nutritional decisions.
Occasionally she will want chocolate, but she also eats healthy food. Chocolate and other junk food are only a small fraction of her diet, much like you and I. Instead of using brute force, you get the message across that certain foods aren’t healthy through creative tactics.
You can role play for instance; have a conversation between your left hand and your right hand. The left hand is the teeth and the right hand is the tongue. The right hand says, “Ohhh give me give me chocolate! I love chocolate!”, but the left hand says, “Ouch, you give me cavities and I might fall out!”, in a fun, playful tone. Children learn through fun and engaging experiences.
Do this enough and eventually your toddler will begin to understand that some foods are bad, regardless of how great they taste. If you give them the freedom of choice, they won’t turn into sugar addicts. You simply have to play with them while delivering education, and lead by example.
Leading By Example
Children are a large reflection of their parents in almost every way, especially if we’re talking about nutrition. It’s hypocritical to force your children to eat in a way that’s not consistent with your own nutritional habits. If you’re significantly overweight or obese, you have to start with you first; not your child. If your child has both the freedom to choose the foods they eat, along with the healthy examples set by their parents, they will follow suit. How often do we see obese kids with fit parents? No where near as often as we see obese kids with obese parents.
You have to start with you before you have the right to start anywhere else. Children aren’t stupid, they can spot a hypocrite.
Formula For Success
If there were ever a formula to solving the junk-food war between parent and toddler, it might look something like this:
Free Will + Education + Led By Example = Success
The most important variable here is free will. The moment we force our nutritional preferences onto our children, it creates an opposite response (struggle). Once the child is left free, then it’s up to us to repeatedly provide the education and the example; and eventually this will lead to success.
I urge anyone reading this who struggles with nutrition and food with their toddler to give this a shot. What do you have to lose?