If you have attended a class of mine before, chances are that you’ve heard me speak about the “Division of Responsibility” before. This phrase, coined by Ellyn Satter, is essentially a simple rule to follow when feeding your children that will hopefully prevent many of the food fights and power struggles that typically show up at the table. Per this philosophy, the parent is responsible for deciding “what, when, and where” while the baby/child is responsible for “whether and how much“. Seems easy right? Well, if you are feeding an infant this is slightly easier to follow but as the child grows into a toddler and then preschooler, they begin to gain independence and think they should be able to control…well just about everything! All too often parents are stealing their child’s role and pushing them to eat more of a certain food than the child wants, or for that matter to even eat something at the meal so they don’t go hungry. Likewise, parents also fall victim to giving away their role in this feeding relationship by allowing a child to demand a snack at any given time or refuse the main course requiring the parent to make them something entirely different from the rest of the family. So how do we all regain the roles we are supposed to follow?
Just like any lifestyle change, it’s best to start slow. Decide which part of this role replacement you are going to embrace first. I usually recommend my clients start by giving back the child’s role first which tends to ease the tension at the dinner table. Once the child starts to feel they are in charge of eating the right amount for their body, and no longer feels pressure or coercion to “just try a bite of this” or “eat more of that to get more of this” or even “eat a good dinner in order to get dessert”, the dynamic immediately shifts. The goal is to eliminate the never-ending battles around food. After a couple weeks of the child now feeling as though they can dictate the amounts of food, then slowly start working towards serving foods that YOU enjoy, even if that might not be their favorites. Of course it is essential that you have a somewhat familiar side dish also offered so they are familiar with at least one part of the meal, and can decide on their own if they want to eat just that side dish and only that side dish. Remember, that’s their choice. As long as a parent or other caregiver is eating the same dinner at the same time, the consistent role modeling will be enough for your child to start branching off their “safe side dish” and becoming more interested in the main courses you have chosen. It doesn’t happen over night, but it absolutely works. And I can tell you what doesn’t, the bribery, coercion, and threats that can be so easy to fall into when you just want your child to eat a balanced meal. We all want what’s best for our children, and can all agree to the benefits of eating healthy, but often lack the know how in getting the results we want. By following this theory, you will get a few steps closer to your goal. For more information on how to implement the Division of Responsibility, contact me to set up an individual appointment or attend one of my workshops on “How to Get Your Kid to Eat” or “Foundations of a Healthy Family”