Friday, September 21, 2012

Holding Kids Accountable with Their Food: Using a Snack Basket


When my oldest son was about 4 years old, he would snack all day long. He would eat breakfast and 10 minutes later come to me begging for a snack.
After a week or so of his persistent nagging, I decided to make him accountable for his own snacks throughout the day. I found an old Easter basket in his bedroom and filled it with 4-6 small snacks for the following day. 

1. Let them know about the change.  Children aren't mind readers so let them know about the new plan.
When breakfast time came I sat down at the table with the Easter basket and showed him all of his snacks. I let him know that Mommy would not be fixing any snacks in between meals and that the snacks in his basket were going to have to last him all day, including dessert after dinner.  He was so excited about the basket. 

2. Give one reminder only! Sure enough about 10-15 minutes after breakfast he came to me and said, “Mommy, I’m hungry.” I said, “You can have anything from your snack basket. Just don’t forget that Mommy will not add anymore snacks to your basket until morning and when they are gone for the day, you will have no more snacks.” He looked at me with those big blue eyes and said, “I won’t forget, Mommy. This is great!”

3.  Don't "police" the basket.  It will be tempting to remind them over and over when you notice the snacks dissappearing but he will learn better when it is his true responsibility.

Well, it wasn’t long before I noticed his basket was half empty and it wasn’t even lunch time yet. I didn’t say anything, though. I let him go on eating and snacking until the entire basket was empty.  I fixed him lunch which he barely touched because of all the snacking he had done.

4. When the snacks dissappear (and they will dissappear) be compassionate but firm.  Don't scold or argue simply state the facts and let them know they will have more in the morning. 

So naturally when 2:00pm came around he looked in his basket and said, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”  I asked him about his snacks and he looked down at his feet and said, “They’re gone.”  He knew what I had said earlier about the snacks and was hoping for some pity from me.  I told him that he must be really upset that all of his snacks were gone, but I would not give him anymore.  The tears started and the whining began. “Pleeeeeeeeeease, Mommy!  I’ll do better tomorrow.  You can even give me less tomorrow, if I can just have one more snack today.” (He has always been a little negotiator.)  I hugged him and told him that I loved him and that it stinks that his snacks are all gone, and tomorrow he can have more.  All day he pestered me about it, but I stood strong, and the following day he was much more conservative with his snacks and even had some to roll over to the next day. 

It is amazing how conservative children will be with their snacks, money or toys and how liberal they can be with something they perceive as belonging to us. 

5.  Let the reality of the situation be the teacher.  That experience will teach your child more than simply nagging or fussing to get them to slow down on their snacking.  Their is also something marvelous that happens when a child has a sense of ownership and responsibility; they begin to experience improved self-image and confidence, which leads to independence.

That day my oldest gained the privilege of “owning his snacks” but he also gained the responsibility to manage them properly.  The first day, I knew they would be gone quickly, but I also knew if he had to suffer through one or two days with no snacks after lunch he would get on board. Once he and his brother started school we kind of got out of the habit of doing snack baskets and recently, (after a very expensive snacking summer) I have opted for a new strategy, I put their lunch snacks, in an “off-limits” basket so that they do not disappear before the end of the week and they know they can have one snack after school and that is all.  I usually only use the snack basket during the summer when they are home all day;  now it is not a basket it is a 3-drawer container that goes in the fridge during the summer and during the school year it is on their “launch pad” table to hold school papers, sports schedules and etc…

What is your strategy for holding your kids accountable with food?

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