Mealtime Roles and Boundaries

Posted by

Breanne Haeger, MOT, OTR/L

Time to read

2 minutes

Have you ever considered what your role, as a parent, is during family mealtimes? You might be thinking, umm, all of it…!? 

You’re the menu planner, short-order cook, cleanup crew, therapist, playmate, behavior manager, and underappreciated personal assistant! Sound about right?

Well we want to take at least ONE thing off your plate!

You are not in charge of how much your child eats!

If you serve the meal (with intention placed on what is offered), and create an environment that invites exploration, you are complete! You are not responsible for how much your child eats of any of the foods served at the meal!

And with this, we get to be really clear on what your child’s role is. Do they currently feel like the demanding boss and the complaining customer?!

They are responsible for two things only! What and how much they eat!

They are not responsible for what gets served (of course requests can be considered ahead of time). They’re not responsible for requesting alternate meals.

Although parent guilt is real, and it’s natural to become stressed when your child doesn’t eat much at a meal, we want to invite you to let it go. It’s one meal. We can shift strategies next time. 🙂  

When boundaries around these roles aren’t respected, it can look like this:

  • Child demanding a different food both before and during meals
  • Parent feels like short-order cook, cooking different things for different family members
  • Child constantly pushing back and complaining about anything at the meal that is non-preferred
  • Parent feeling defeated and guilty when their child does not consume the expected quantity
  • Power struggles surrounding finishing the meal, and constantly saying “just take one more bite”

That’s exhausting for everyone! We don’t want you to have to go through that.

When we respect boundaries surrounding these roles, mealtimes can look like this:

  • “I like ___ too, but that’s not on the menu today. We’re having _____”
  • You don’t feel like it’s your job to control the actions of another little human
  • Sigh of relief and growth mindset–we can readjust for the next meal!
  • Children will stop asking for other items sooner than you’d think!
  • When boundaries are consistent, both parties will adjust and feel much less pressure (and thus, more joy) during mealtimes!

We don’t know about you, but we’d much rather be a part of the second dynamic!

We encourage you to try this on, be consistent for a couple weeks, and see what changes you notice in yourself and in your family!

If you would like to discuss your child’s feeding patterns with a Feeding Therapist, we’d love to connect with you in a FREE occupational therapy consultation. Schedule here!