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Simple Strategy to Avoid Food Battles: Create a Diversion

April 27, 2012 1 comment

TIRED of meeting headstrong resistance head on and getting nowhere? — photo by Anna Migeon

Your child bangs her cup on the table and glares. Or she yells, “I hate beets!” and grabs a handful and rears back for a pitch. Or she may simply say, “Yuck! I’m not eating that!” to your sumptuous dinner.

What next?

Wouldn’t you do almost anything to have a little peace at the dinner table?

At such moments, wouldn’t it be great to have a way to keep a child on track without the usual yelling, threatening, arguments, lectures, punishments—all with limited effectiveness—and without misery (including yours)? Do you need a path to resolving conflicts of will where nothing’s broken, no one’s screaming and no food is thrown on the floor? Are you sick of meeting headstrong resistance head on and getting nowhere?

The good news is that nothing extreme is called for. The solution may be very simple.

How to Get a Kid to Do Something

When things are about to blow, try creating a diversion. Offer an alternative. In the book How to Get People to Do Things (1979), author Robert Conklin calls it taking a detour. It’s a simple, effective, low-key way to keep a situation from going where you don’t want it to go with a child (or maybe an adult).  It only requires that you be alert and tuned in to your child, yet nonchalant and cool.

  • When Serina bangs her cup, be quick. Interrupt the action long enough to calmly suggest another idea or activity that can become as attractive to Serina throwing a fit:

“Serina, could you please help me get watermelon for everybody?”

  • Be quick again and intercept Serina’s little fistful of beets, saying only, “Food stays on the table.” Remove the beets, but not too far away. Then say:

“Serina, did you tell Daddy how much fun you had playing in the creek this afternoon?”

After Serina has her resistance neutralized, she might just forget how much she hates beets. You might see her end up reaching out for them (they’re still nearby), in the glow of getting to tell about her fun.

Old School Magical Mind Control

Creating a diversion is a parenting technique that was recommended some 100 years ago by a British educational reformer, Charlotte Mason, as described by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in her 1984 book For the Children’s Sake: Educational Foundations for Home and School.

This way of “changing children’s thoughts,” as Mason calls it, lets a child save face without a parent giving in: “Where she cannot yield, she diverts, she does not crush with a sledgehammer.” A new idea diffuses the battle while giving parents an action to replace the pushiness and direct control that are so unhelpful at the table. Getting pushy over what a child puts in her mouth is the last thing you want to do.

“It is a happy thing that the ‘difficult’ children who are the readiest to resist a direct command are often the quickest to respond to the stimulus of an idea,” Mason states.

So next time your child challenges you to a battle over what she won’t eat, maybe acknowledge her feelings, then try giving her something better to think about, and see what happens:

  • “OK. I guess you’re not hungry. Did your teacher announce who gets to play Alice in Wonderland in the show?”
  • “I know you wanted to keep playing, but it’s time for us all to come to the table together. Did you hear what happened to your sister today at school?”

***

For more examples of how to create a diversion at the table: Taking a detour: One Good Way to Neutralize a Kid’s Food Resistance 

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Sacred Appetite in the News: SA Busy Kids

April 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Check out Debi Pfitzenmaier’s blog post on Sacred Appetite’s free San Antonio workshop for parents on May 5!

The workshop, “How to Shepherd Your Child’s Appetite,” will be held at La Altura Pediatrics from 9-11 a.m. Space is limited. To register, email anna at annamigeon dot com.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Little Miracle of ‘Family Style’ Meals: How It Helps Kids be Less Picky

April 9, 2012 3 comments

Giving kids safe freedom, letting them do what they can do, leads to better eating and better attitudes. - photo by Anna Migeon

“I know I should serve them family style, and usually I do,” Debra, a mom of a picky eater, told me when I visited her house on a Supper Nanny visit.  “But since this is something new tonight I knew they wouldn’t want to eat it, so I plated it up.”

Hmmmmm. Exactly the time NOT to plate it up, I thought to myself.

I was at Debra’s house for the second time to help her figure out what she could do to get picky Jonathan to eat something beyond the ten meals she was cooking. This serving of filled plates was one of the problems. Or rather, the evidence of a deeper problem: the real problem.

Serving Dishes: The Instrument of Backing Off

“Why would anyone put the food on their children’s plates for them?” I wondered the first time I saw Debra putting full plates in front of her kids.  They were old enough to be capable of serving themselves. In my follow-up recommendations, filling her kids’ plates for them was one of the first items on my list of things to change.  Back off; pass the food around in serving dishes and let them serve themselves. Let their appetite lead them to reach for the food, and how much. If they are free to eat or not, they are more likely to eat. She tried it and was amazed.

“No screaming – just happy quiet eating,” she reported to me later. ” Jonathan even served himself a tomato!!!!!  And ate it!!!!  We almost passed out!”

Yet here she was, slipping back into her old ways. It’s hard for a pusher to back off. It’s hard to trust the kids and trust their appetites to do the job.

Subtle Pressure: Plating Up Food

Debra’s comment about plating up the food because she was afraid they wouldn’t want it clarified in my mind exactly why anyone would serve their kids’ plates for them: it’s a way of trying to make them eat.  And trying to make kids eat is always a bad idea. Filling their plates is a form of pushing that will generally only lead to more resistance. So we talked about it again and she agreed to get back to family style.

You want to back off, give a picky child freedom to approach a new food on his own, not feel forced and pressured. Serving a resistant child a full plate of food is a good way to get more resistance, even if it’s something they do want to eat. An oppositional child like Debra’s six-year-old Jonathan practically has to say no to a plate full of food shoved under this nose. I can’t say I blame him.

“If the only way to make my own choice is to reject . . . 

The next week, Debra talked about the changes she was making at her dinner table and the good results she was getting when she was at lunch with the other fourth-grade moms. One of the main insights she shared with them was serving family style. Apparently she’s not the only one who needed to hear it.

“Another mom just texted me that she tried family style dining and it was a huge success!” Debra told me that night. “Her kids ate rutabagas!”

In response to my suggestions to back off with picky kids, yet another mom, Robin, told a similar tale of giving picky kids some room to take charge of their own eating by using serving dishes.

“We tried something new this week — instead of making the kids’ plates (my older kids are four and two), I put all the food out on nice serving dishes. My husband and I said grace and served ourselves, leaving the kids’ plates empty. After about 45 seconds of watching us eat, each one asked for something, and ended up eating a balanced meal — I think we had steak, roasted asparagus, and mashed sweet potatoes. I think they ate because they had agency to choose each thing — rather than being served, and using their agency to reject, the only option left open if we had done things the usual way.”

Family Style Revolution: The Old-Fashioned Way to Be a Cool Parent

I was almost as astonished as Debra. Not that serving family style worked, but that the idea was such a revelation. If I hadn’t visited Debra’s house, I wouldn’t have thought to tell parents to serve family style. I took it for granted. It’s what my mom always did and what I always did. I wouldn’t have thought anybody needed to be told to let children serve themselves.

But serving family style is a stunningly simple and effective way to give children some freedom that they should rightfully have. It lets them do for themselves what they can. It’s a safe freedom that leads to better eating and better attitudes. It gives kids independence and self-mastery, which can lessen their resistance to eating.

It also gives parents an active alternative to pushing and urging children to eat. Nothing tricky, nothing manipulative, nothing complicated and tiresome. Just dish up the food and pass it around, and don’t bug the kids. It’s pure masterly inactivity: a wisely passive, purposeful leaving alone. It’s an action to counter the urge to over control. It gives anxious parents something to do concretely different and better. It gives them a job that keeps them from working so hard so they can get better results. It keeps the parent out of the way of the child’s natural appetite.

***

Related posts:

Foolish Freedom: Why some kids refuse to eat, even to the point of harming themselves

Emerson and the Calf, or one good reason kids refuse to eat

Categories: Uncategorized

Sacred Appetite in the News

 

In “No More Battles at Mealtime,” (Sunday, April 1, 2012) Jessica Belasco, a San Antonio Express News nutrition columnist, writes about Anna Migeon of Sacred Appetite, and her methods for transforming the dinner table from a battlefield into a place of harmonious, happy eating.

No more battles at mealtime

Anna Migeon doesn’t stand for picky eaters.

When her children were little, she didn’t argue when they didn’t want what she was cooking.

“That’s good, because I didn’t really make enough for you guys,” she told them.

Their response? “We want some!”     Read more

Categories: Uncategorized

‘How to Shepherd Your Child’s Appetite’: Free Workshop for Parents of Picky Kids May 5 at La Altura Pediatrics in San Antonio

April 9, 2012 1 comment

9 – 11 a.m.

La Altura Pediatrics
Dominion Hills Plaza 21195 IH-10 West, Suite 2101
San Antonio, Texas 78257

Are meals a battle?
Having trouble getting kids to eat at the table?
Have you become a short order cook?
Do you make two different meals for one family?

Through this interactive workshop, you will:

  • Identify which tools you are using to try to make kids eat that actually make things worse, and get equipped with the right tools — the ones that work!
  • Find out how to cultivate the right atmosphere and habits in your home so children both eat happily AND behave.
  • Discover how to practice “masterly inactivity”: do less to accomplish more.
  • Learn how to leverage children’s natural appetites to motivate them to want to eat what YOU want them to eat.
  • See how to have more fun in the process of feeding your family.

Presented by Anna Migeon, author of the blog: “Sacred Appetite:  Restoring Healthy and Harmonious Family Meals.” She coaches small groups and individuals, offering Supper Nanny home consultations.

For more information and to register, please email anna@annamigeon.com or call (210) 785-9099

What some moms who’ve been coached by Anna Migeon say:

Jennifer B.:
Your feedback has been the most tangible and helpful I have ever gotten on this subject and is really helping me to muster up the courage to tackle this.

Leslie H.:
“This training gave me the right to be calm about food. It has been a work in progress, but I have given up much of my anxiety about my kids’ eating.  I have given my children more power (or so they think), which has freed up my time & emotions. They have more independence & a sense of power. They eat better when it’s time to eat. They are also helping to choose meals & getting more interested in the kitchen.”

Angela W.:
“Since implementing your advice dinner time is much more pleasant! Before, my son would often be so hungry that he was grouchy and whiny by the time we sat down to eat dinner. It was difficult to actually get him to eat at that point. My husband and I mostly dreaded dinner. It’s a wonderful change! Now he is happy and pleasant at the dinner table, yet still eats a great meal. In fact, he’s eating dinner much better now! So thanks to your advice, he eats a great lunch, and he eats a great dinner.  Awesome!”

Kim S.:
“No screaming – just happy quiet eating.  Henry even served himself a tomato!!!!!  And ate it!!!!  We almost passed out!  Thank you again for guiding us. I really did take away some effective tools that have worked for us.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Free Workshop: “How to Shepherd your Child’s Appetite” in San Antonio May 5

May 5, 2012
9 – 11 a.m.
at La Altura Pediatrics

Dominion Hills Plaza 21195 IH-10 West, Suite 2101

San Antonio, Texas 78257

Are meals a battle?
Having trouble getting kids to eat at the table?
Have you become a short order cook?
Do you make two different meals for one family?

Through this interactive workshop, you will:

  • Identify which tools you are using to try to make kids eat that actually make things worse, and get equipped with the right tools — the ones that work!
  • Find out how to cultivate the right atmosphere and habits in your home so children both eat happily AND behave.
  • Discover how to practice “masterly inactivity”: do less to accomplish more.
  • Learn how to leverage children’s natural appetites to motivate them to want to eat what YOU want them to eat.
  • See how to have more fun in the process of feeding your family.

Presented by Anna Migeon, author of the blog: “Sacred Appetite:  Restoring Healthy and Harmonious Family Meals.” She coaches small groups and individuals, offering Super Supper Nanny home consultations. For more information and to register, please email anna@annamigeon.com or call (210) 785-9099

What some moms who’ve been coached by Anna Migeon say:

Jennifer B.:
Your feedback has been the most tangible and helpful I have ever gotten on this subject and is really helping me to muster up the courage to tackle this.

Leslie H.:
“This training gave me the right to be calm about food. It has been a work in progress, but I have given up much of my anxiety about my kids’ eating.  I have given my children more power (or so they think), which has freed up my time & emotions. They have more independence & a sense of power. They eat better when it’s time to eat. They are also helping to choose meals & getting more interested in the kitchen.”

Angela W.:
“Since implementing your advice dinner time is much more pleasant! Before, my son would often be so hungry that he was grouchy and whiny by the time we sat down to eat dinner. It was difficult to actually get him to eat at that point. My husband and I mostly dreaded dinner. It’s a wonderful change! Now he is happy and pleasant at the dinner table, yet still eats a great meal. In fact, he’s eating dinner much better now! So thanks to your advice, he eats a great lunch, and he eats a great dinner.  Awesome!”

Kim S.:
“No screaming – just happy quiet eating.  Henry even served himself a tomato!!!!!  And ate it!!!!  We almost passed out!  Thank you again for guiding us. I really did take away some effective tools that have worked for us.”

Categories: Uncategorized