Now cookies and chocolate are luring again, and the shreds are already flying: Children often do not understand that they must not snack indefinitely. How do parents deal with it?
Prof. Fabienne Becker-Stroll: Christmas is an exceptional time, because expectations are high on all sides, which can be unloading at the dining table. Clear rules help some, such as the announcement that cookies are only eaten together or the unraveling of expectations. If a festive meal is important to me, I can also enjoy it with my partner when the children are sleeping. Or serve the children pasta and the big roast.
Otherwise will the family table become a battle zone?
Fortunately, our research shows that the majority of parents find the time at the dining table with the children valuable. But the standards have changed and need to be renegotiated. In my childhood it was still true: Fabienne, as long as you haven't eaten your plate empty, you can't get up! I sat in front of my cold spinach for hours. As a bond researcher, I do a lot of interviews, today's parents tell me about sometimes horrible eating situations in their own childhood. Today children are more likely to listen to their bodies. Incidentally, this also prevents eating disorders.
Restaurant owners are increasingly complaining that children run wildly between the tables. Are there too few rules today?
If children behave badly at the dining table, this is almost always an expression of the fact that their needs are not taken into account. Children want and need attention. For restaurant visits, this means that parents have to deal with their children in a way that is appropriate to the location; they could read aloud or paint together. Letting your child run in the restaurant is a sign of disinterest – not just for the other guests, but also for your own child.
And at home?
A smaller child who is rioting at the dining table usually does so for a good reason, but he cannot yet articulate this reason. Most of the time the child is hypoglycemic, so he has been hungry for a long time, he is tired or needs closeness and care. If it plays with the food and makes nonsense, it is usually full. Up until the start of school, a child depends on his parents recognizing the reason and reacting sensitively. If parents interpret signals correctly and satisfy the underlying needs, conflicts can often be easily resolved.
Do you have an example of this?
If everyone is stressed out at the family table and the kids are over the top, parents have to think: Why is that? Do the children need a snack? Should we eat earlier because the children have long been in bed? Sometimes it also helps not to put the food on the table immediately after coming home, but to cuddle extensively first.
A Harvard University study shows that in families that eat together, cohesion is stronger, children are more confident, but less likely to be depressed and overweight. Why are meals together so powerful?
Because the everyday life of many families is closely timed. In the to-do sea of daycare and work, flutes, handball and homework, meals together are islands: moments of togetherness in which families can exchange ideas and enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere. Children need these well-being situations to refuel and experience security and security. And they are soundboards. A healthy eating culture helps to identify problems before they grow up.
What do you mean by healthy eating culture?
Parents are the responsible moderators. Their behavior decides whether children feel comfortable and address what concerns them. In addition, parents should never address unpleasant topics on their own at the dining table, for example the spanking math work, which spoils the appetite and destroys the relaxed coexistence. And: Parents need to know that children eat differently from adults.
Our daycare research shows that children do not like messed up food. Many children do not eat stews and casseroles, even more: the vast majority want all the components on their plates separately, the sauce not on, but next to the pasta, for example. If parents take this into account, do not cut bread and noodles into small pieces and let the children scoop them themselves, a lot of explosives are already out.
Children often have very special, sometimes unhealthy eating preferences. What if my child doesn't eat vegetables?
Parents tend to look at family meals in isolation. If a child already had fruit and vegetables at school or in the children's ridge, everything is wonderful, and they should eat "nude" pasta. It depends on the total daily turnover. There is also the fact that children do not eat vegetables at all, but extremely rarely. Parents should then always offer vegetables, absolutely without constraint, and let the child eat raw food and fruit. If you are very unsure, speak to the pediatrician.
What do you advise parents who drive their children's eating preferences crazy?
Patience. Many do not want to experiment in preschool age. The fact that children like sweets more than slightly bitter vegetables has an evolutionary reason: it protected our ancestors from poisoning. Every meal should have something for every family member who likes it. At the time when my children were spurning vegetables, there were strawberries or banana pieces instead of cucumbers for dinner sandwiches, and we still have the following today: Nobody has to eat something that they don't like. But something else worries me a lot more.
More and more mothers – it is primarily the mothers, but the fathers are catching up – are extremely careful about healthy eating, and that harms the children. The need to eat healthy then overlaps everything, the children's needs are no longer seen, every bite is observed. This is poison for the mood at the table, and it can lead children to eating disorders because they learn from role models. This applies to table manners – a father who checks his smartphone while chewing or does not eat properly with a knife and fork does not need to be surprised about improper children – as well as for pathological eating behavior. Signals a mother: If you eat, you are weak, this will be transferred to the children. It is best for these parents to get outside help.
More and more parents are working. How does that work?
Every family needs meals together, several times a week. It is crucial that the meals are real well-being situations. Mothers, in particular, almost split up between jobs and children. You worry a lot: is it normal what my child does, am I a good mother? This leads to stress and pressure. You should make it as easy as possible.
It's easy to say.
It helps me that we sit together as a family when it crunches over a longer period of time and consider: How can we take stress out? If evening cooking is annoying, bring an evening meal to the table. If a mother has to come down after coming home, she arranges a mini break, often ten minutes is enough. Children can do this well from primary school age. Predictive shopping and meal plans also take stress out. What I care about: When mom or dad are rushing around the dining table, the bad mood is transferred to the children. Parents also need to take care of themselves.