Meal Time Responsibilities
Feeding children is a tough job, especially when there are so many sugary, salty, and processed options out there and you just want them to eat a healthy diet. Many families come to me saying that their child is a junk food junky! Families feel that every meal becomes a battle ground, and they are just not willing to fight anymore so they just given in and let their child eat whatever they want so they can maintain the peace at meals. While this works in the moment it does not solve the problem of their child eating a well-balanced meal. Most of us know that our children should eat a diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, proteins and whole grains, but it just isn’t happening. While the children I see in the clinic are often seen because they have more complex feeding issues, I always start by educating families about the Division of Responsibilities at meals.
Parents, caregivers and siblings act as a model when younger children are developing eating habits. When given the option between salty, sugary, and crunchy snack foods and “healthy food” children will often choose the junk. While telling a child what to eat often doesn’t work. Children often become picky eaters when they are not taught to eat a diverse diet. When parents try to make their children eat healthy, the battle often begins. The division of responsibilities include what the parent and the children’s responsibilities are during the meal. Parents have 3 responsibilities during the meal, and the child has 2 responsibilities this structure often helps give families the structure they need at meals.
1. When the meal/snack is served
2. What is served for the meal/snack
3. Where the meal/snack is served
1. How much to eat
2. Whether or not to eat what is served
Many childhood mealtime battles can be resolved in time by following the division of responsibilities. While it often may appear to get worse before it gets better as children to learn the new routines of meals and snacks, they will learn their responsibilities. Sticking to these responsibilities can be very difficult when you don’t think your child is eating appropriately. Parents often feel that their child might “starve” if they do not give in, but if meals are offered at regular intervals children will have another opportunity to eat in 2-3 hours. Most children will eat if they are hungry. Children who have special needs, sensory processing difficulties, or poor motor skills may require additional assistance, but will benefit from the division of responsibilities. While tantrums are to be expected at first, parents should stand their ground and stick to their responsibilities of “When, Where, and what is served” and let the child decide how much even if they choose nothing.
Common mealtime struggles include tantrums due to grazing all day, over eating prior to the meal or waiting to eat a preferred junk food after the meal. The Division of Responsibilities comes from the work of Ellyn Satter. This method has also been adopted by the Childhood Feeding Collaborative of Santa Clara County to help address childhood feeding challenges such as obesity, poor eating and picky eating. If after using the division of responsibilities, you still struggle with feeding your child a healthy meal additional support may be needed. An occupational or speech therapist can help with teaching children the skills to eat properly and can help coach parents in the use of the division of responsibilities. Therapists at Joy & Laughter Developmental Therapy use the division of responsibility when working with all feeding clients, regardless if there are additional diagnoses.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about meal time responsibilities. please let us know what you think in the comments below.
Joy & Laughter Developmental Therapy – JLDtherapy.com
Ellyn Satter Institue – http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/dor/divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php
Santa Clara County – http://www.sccgov.org/sites/sccphd/en-us/HealthProviders/cfc/Pages/main-page.aspx
Pediatric Healthy Lifestyles Center – http://www.valleyhealthplan.org/sites/grp/hw/classes/Pages/PHLC.aspx