How to Win Over Stubborn Children
Read our tips for dealing with stubborn behavior (Hint: All it takes is a little reverse psychology to get an obstinate kid to see things your way.) Plus, get more discipline tips.
The power struggle: Your child refuses all veggies, eats only white foods, or insists he isn't hungry at all. You fear he'll starve, and you resent his attitude after you've worked so hard to prepare the meal.
Start small. Give picky eaters very small portions of everything you're serving, then let them choose what they want to eat, if anything, recommends child-development and behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, the Pacific Palisades, CA, author of You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child.
The critical key to your sneakiness: Don't say a word about the food. No pushing your child to try just a bite. “Talk about your day, the weather, anything other than food, since that's what picky eaters are waiting for—a chance to fight with you,” says Brown Braun.
Dish up a dessert. If you know your child is just biding his time until he gets his end-of-the-meal treat, don't deny him, but do make sure it's super small, like one chocolate kiss or a vanilla-wafer cookie, Brown Braun says. You can even put it on the plate with dinner so your child knows that's all he's going to get. That way, there's no more bargaining with your child to eat “real food” in return for sweets. He gets dessert no matter what, and you won't feel like you're caving in, because the treat is so small and unexciting. Plus, there's no way that little dessert will fill your child up. If he's still hungry—and he will be—he'll have to go back to his entrée and the accompanying veggies!
Keep your cool. Have one unchanging food alternative your child can make himself if he doesn't want what you're serving. It should be easy, nutritious, something you always have on hand, and not require cooking. Think beans, yogurt, hummus, or even the good old PB&J sandwich, suggests child and family therapist (and mom of three kids) Wendy Young of Newberry, MI. “Even three-year-olds can smear peanut butter on bread, and it's important for stubborn kids to be in charge of the alternate food,” she says. After a few meals of this, most kids will weary of preparing (and eating) their alternate food and give in to what you're serving. If your child decides to eat nothing at all, Young suggests supporting his decision and calmly acknowledging, “No problem. You can have a big breakfast tomorrow.”
Really headstrong kids can carry on this act for a long time, however, so be prepared. The most important thing here is to keep calm and not have an emotional reaction. Encouraging, but never forcing, your child to eat a variety of foods should be the main objective. Keep in mind, too, that tastes change over time, so what a child refuses to eat today may actually be well-liked in several months.