"No, James! I told you to ask first," repeats a frustrated mom for what seems like the hundredth time that day. If this sounds like your house, you may want to try some positive parenting techniques to keep your little one from sneaking food. Many parents have been down this road before with at least one child. As a veteran mom with kids of varying ages, I've had plenty of experience in this area. The first part of solving the issue lies in discovering the root of the sneakiness. Some kids may have an eating disorder, so it's also important to talk to the pediatrician first. These extra positive parenting tips that worked for us may help as well, if approved by the child's doctor.
Is your child getting enough food and nutrition? As children grow, they tend to eat more than they usually would, especially if they are going through a growth spurt. Some kids will even eat more than some adults. Look for signs that tell you to adjust your child's portion size at meals. If your child tries to go back for seconds and thirds or tries to have snacks immediately after dinner, you may not be providing enough to begin with. Also, pay attention to what food he sneaks and report this to the doctor, in case there is a nutritional deficiency. There may be certain vitamins and minerals lacking from the diet that your child is trying to compensate for.
Are there enough snacks in between meals? If your child is trying to hoard or steal food, that may simply be a signal that he needs snacks. Keep a schedule of the times your child most often tries to steal food. If it occurs at similar times, schedule a snack at that time. If it's random, your child's feeding schedule may be inconsistent. Try to feed your child his meals and snacks at the same time every day so that his body can better form a hunger pattern. The actual time does not matter as much as it matters that the schedule stays the same.
Watch for hunger cues. If you learn how your child behaves when hungry, you can intercept before he tries to sneak food. Being proactive like this is a more positive parenting method than being reactive. If you catch your child before he even thinks of doing the act, this can lessen instances without having to reprimand. If the sneaking has become a bad habit, this method may be tiring at first, but it will be worth it to see your child's sneaky food behaviors improve.
Should you lock the cupboards and refrigerator? While this can be an easier temporary solution for frustrated parents, it can only make some children want the food more. It also can make a hoarding problem worse because they will want to hide food for later if they know they cannot access it easily. As small children get older, they will be more curious about how to remove the locking mechanisms. A more positive parenting method is to teach them to ask for the food, rather than take it. This way, when they are old enough to figure out locks, they are mature enough to understand why they shouldn't just steal food all the time.
Never refuse food, unless it's absolutely necessary. Most children will know when they are full and will not be asking for food. Unless your child has obviously had enough, never say no when he asks for food. Also, if he sneaks food, ask something like "Why didn't you just ask for that?" If you do this consistently, your child will eventually learn that sneaking food is not necessary. This more positive way of teaching the lesson helps avoid making your child feel bad about food.
Never, ever make a child feel bad about food. Also, do not use food as a reward. There needs to be a fair balance for your child to have healthy food behaviors. Using positive parenting methods to revert your child's food focus can be extremely helpful. But just like any other method, consistency is key. Be proactive, not reactive. In time, you will likely see a big improvement in your child's behavior and thoughts toward food.
Note: The author's positive parenting method has evolved into what she calls Upstream Parenting.
*I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network
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