Avoiding Power Struggles
However, children cannot feel hungry or not hungry, or sleepy or not sleepy, any time they need to—or want to. So the child's inside information is an unreliable advantage, and here's where a parent can steer away from the power struggle by offering some control back to the child:
Instead of: "Do you need to go to the toilet, Joshua?"
Offer a choice: "Do you want Daddy to take you or do you want me to take you to the bathroom?"
While this strategy doesn't always work, it has a good track record and gives the message that Joshua has some say in what happens to him and that his parents respect him as a person.
Meals are often another occasion for difficult power struggles, and it's important to pick your battles carefully here. Very strict food rules impose control that no adult would tolerate. The price of admission to the "clean plate club" may be too high for the child and the family.
Your best time for making family diet decisions is the time when you have the most control—at the supermarket. Instead of bringing home a gallon of ice cream and then practically needing a lock on the freezer to keep the kids from it, you're better off buying only a small amount of ice cream or none at all.
The long-term goal is for the child to recognize and satisfy his or her own hunger with what's available. The short-term goal may be just as important: to create a relaxed family atmosphere that everyone enjoys.
Left with the selection you provide, most children will select a good diet overall, deviating occasionally from what is good for them along the way—the same pattern you find in adults. To emphasize this area of behavior when no serious problem exists may influence eating habits in dangerous directions—toward eating too much or too little—and it interferes with the mealtime atmosphere.
Take control when you must, but give it away as often as you can.