Parenting expert, Dr. Laura Markham at Aha Parenting, explains it this way:
“So every time your child chooses to shift gears from what she wants to do, to follow your lead, she practices regulating her impulses. She’s building self-discipline muscle. (Or, actually, neural pathways. But like muscle, these neural pathways get stronger with use, so you can think of it as building a stronger brain that’s capable of harder work.). Permissive parenting doesn’t help kids develop self-discipline because it doesn’t ask them to exercise self control in pursuit of their larger goal.”
Although how we set limits is also important, such as using empathy, the key is to have the limits set in the first place. Here’s how to do it around food:
- If kids are used to a loose feeding schedule, explain clearly to them that things are going to change. Review Satter’s Division of Responsibility, telling them that it’s your job to pick what to eat, when to eat it, and where but they get to decide whether or not to eat it.
- What: Let children know that you decide what is for meals but you love their input. School-aged children can start making some meals and snacks but it’s important they do it with guidance from parents.
- When: Decide how many times to eat meals and snacks. Three meals and two snacks is typical but that depends on needs and different children have different needs. Do what pediatric nutrition expert Jill Castle recommends and have a “kitchen closed” rule between meals.
- Where: Set a place to eat like the kitchen table. Limit eating while watching TV or in the car to occasional occurrences.
Meal structure is your secret weapon
When challenges arise with kids around hunger and constantly asking to eat, it’s typical to look at food as the culprit. But it usually has more to do with how the child is being fed, and these two simple words: meal structure.