Mealtimes can be stressful, frustrating and often unpleasant for families dealing with feeding issues. Parents are responsible for the nourishment of their kids: a huge responsibility that isn’t in their full control. That’s scary, especially when a child’s health is in jeopardy, and it can make mealtimes a dreaded time of day rather than a relaxed coming together of family. Here are 3 tips to help you keep calm at mealtimes because, ultimately, that’s all that’s in your control and if you can stay calm, calm prevails!
1. Breathe. This is our best tool to keep calm and it’s always with us. It’s just hard to remember in the stress of the moment! When you catch yourself reacting to food refusal or whatever mealtime stress occurs at your table, taking a minute to focus on your breath and slowing your heart rate can help you keep your cool and pick your battles! Here are some breathing exercises that can help!
2. Mealtime roles and responsibilities. This one is so integral to peaceful mealtimes that I have it as a permanent page at the top of the blog! By setting the ground rules of mealtimes before meals begin and keeping those rules consistent from meal to meal, you’re not only giving your kids solid boundaries and clear expectations, you’re also giving yourself a break! You don’t have to agonize over how to handle every mealtime because you have a consistent plan for how to handle every mealtime. A plan that gives you the control you need to be providing what your child needs and gives them the control they need over their bodies, feelings and emotions. It’s a win-win!
3. Make sure there is at least one thing your child will eat at meals and snacks. This will make it much easier to let them decide how much and still let you control the ‘what’. If you can calmly tell your child, “I know you said you don’t want it and that’s ok, but it’s still part of dinner. You can eat _____.” (the blank being the food on the table they will eat) Then it’s your child’s choice if, what and how much they eat of what’s being offered. You can stay calm knowing you provided a food you know they like.
If your child refuses a food you know they like, you do not need to keep offering other options. As hard as it may be to let your child’s ‘no mean no’, honoring a child’s ‘no’ while staying calm and saying ‘ok, then you don’t have to eat it,’ teaches them what saying ‘no’ to food means. If they say ‘no’ to parts of dinner, then get offered the fridge, ‘no’ begins to mean ‘I want something else’ or ‘I want to see you run around the kitchen like a maniac!” By setting boundaries we are teaching kids what words (and their actions) mean!
Wishing you all mealtime peace, if not around you, within you! Happy breathing!