When it comes to feeding toddlers, what you SAY can have just as much of an impact on how they eat as what you do or serve. Here’s a list of four things NOT to say when speaking to your toddler about food to set him or her up for success right now and in the future.
If you’re a parent, you know it. Feeding toddlers is tricky with a capital “T”. Chances are that at one point or another your toddler has wanted to eat the same three things over and over again, and/or has completely refused to eat anything of any nutritional value, and/or has liked something one second only to loudly exclaim “no like” the next. It’s a tough road to navigate, and it takes a lot of psychological manipulation to successfully do so.
That’s right, today I’m here telling you to psychologically manipulate your child. It sounds strange to flat out say it like that, but it’s the truth. What we say to our toddlers now when it comes to food and eating will lay the foundation for not only their current eating habits, but their relationship with food in the future. It’s just as important, if not more so, than HOW we feed them or WHAT we feed them.
Having studied psychology – and having gone through my own rocky relationship with food – I’ve made it my mission to raise my daughter to have the healthiest, most positive relationship with eating that she can. This means countless hours studying the research, perfecting my own relationship with food, and practicing all that I’ve learned with my little girl. Throughout everything, I’ve been able to glean what really works and what doesn’t when it comes to speaking to your toddler about food, and that’s what I’m here to share with you!
Read on to learn the four things to watch out for when speaking about food with your littles, along with ways to rephrase what you say for optimal results:
Presenting things as “black and white”
One of the main things you want to watch out for when speaking to your toddler about food is presenting it as “healthy” or “unhealthy” or “good for you” or “bad for you.” This presents things as more “black and white” or “yes” or “no” to your child, where the real goal is to teach him or her balance and everything in moderation.
Rather than using these phrases, try focusing on other aspects of food and eating, like how the food tastes, how it makes our bodies feel, or how the food looks.
Some examples of this would be:
“Mmmm don’t these mashed sweet potatoes taste nice and creamy?”
“Doesn’t this broccoli make you feel strong?”
“How fun are all these colors on our plate? Are they making a rainbow?”
Your own negative self-talk
Toddlers are sponges, and they absorb more than we think. Be mindful of how you speak about your own body image or eating habits when you’re around your toddler, because it will most certainly rub off on him or her. Never make comments in front of them about needing to lose weight or not being able to eat something because it’s not on your diet, or saying you need to lose 10 pounds before you can wear a bikini. In a similar vein, be wary of your comments about THEIR size.
Here are some great POSITIVE examples of things you could say instead:
“I love eating lots of fruits and vegetables because they make me feel happy and energized.”
“Let’s put on our swimsuits and go swimming!”
“You’re so strong!”
I talk about it a lot, but forcing your child to eat something will only lead to resentment and resistance and potentially set them up for disordered eating in the future. The secret is to continuously introduce new and different foods to your toddler, while allowing him or her the autonomy to choose what he or she will or won’t eat. If you offer enough healthy options, your little one will find SOMETHING he or she loves. Perhaps the greatest way to overcome the feeling of needing to force is to lead by example! If your child sees you eating healthy food on the regular, he or she will want to do the same (see my above note about toddlers being sponges).
Dwelling on the negative
Perhaps one of the biggest things we can avoid when communicating with our toddlers about food (and related to #4) is dwelling on the negative. Don’t focus on what they didn’t eat, or how little they ate. Instead, celebrate the wins and encourage positive behavior! If your child tastes something they’ve never tried before, let them know how proud you are of them. If they ate a well-rounded meal, exclaim to them how good they must feel. Kids love positive reinforcement, so dole that stuff out on the regular.
This is just my quick summary of what NOT to say or do when speaking to your toddler about food, but there’s a lot more where that came from! If you want to learn more about feeding your little one, click here for my free cheat sheet on dealing with picky eaters AND to get on the list to be notified when my next Feeding Toddlers: Unlocked! comprehensive course kicks off. I can’t wait to see you there!