Positive Talk with Toddlers About Food

Positive Talk with Toddlers about Food

Food Talk with Toddlers

Can you negotiate with a toddler?

You can’t. This, I know.

Can you carry on a conversation that has meaning, relevance and juicy tidbits that will plant themselves in the toddler brain so that it blossoms and grows into a rationale reference point for them later on?

Yes, you can.

Talking with Toddlers about Food is Fundamental to Learning

What you say to toddlers and preschoolers about nutrition starts to build the foundation of how they think about food and nutrition. Focusing in on positive talk with toddlers is part of the key, but also understanding their developmental stage and their capacity for understanding what you’re saying is equally important.

Planting the seeds of nutrition knowledge early can be an asset later on. Of course, over the years your child’s knowledge base will grow and become influenced not just by you, but by the greater world, as well.

If you want your toddler or preschooler to think positively about food, nutrition, eating and his body with an open mind, you’ll need to have age-appropriate comments and conversations.

Yep, you’ll need to practice some positive talk with your toddler.

If you make judgments or disparaging remarks about food, your toddler can become confused and form a negative outlook about nutrition. For instance, if you say, “Sugar is bad for you,” when clearly, to your toddler it may taste delicious, you can see where confusion can cloud perception. How can sugar be bad when it tastes so good?

Positive talk with toddlers about food can plant the seeds of learning and understanding nutrition in the future. #childdevelopment #foodtalk Click To Tweet

The goal of talking about nutrition with toddlers is to set a positive, curious and open attitude about food and nutrition early on.

Let’s look at some examples of positive and negative food talk, and how a toddler might interpret what you say, positively or negatively.

Positive Talk with Toddlers vs. Negative Talk with Toddlers

Positive Talk How it’s Heard Negative Talk How it’s Heard
Broccoli is green and looks like a tree. Lettuce looks like leaves. An orange is put together like a puzzle; let’s pull apart the pieces. I know the color green. Grass is also green. I love to do puzzles! Let’s see how this works. Candy is bad for you. You shouldn’t eat it. I like candy. It tastes good. I must be bad because I like it.
Today we’re having fruit. It’s juicy and sweet and good for your body. I like food that tastes sweet. I want some! I think you’re eating too much.  I am hungry and I want more. But Mommy (or Daddy) doesn’t want me to eat. I feel ashamed for being hungry.
Your body is growing to be big and strong. I like my body. It can do lots of things like skip, hop, and jump. You’re heavy to hold. Hey, chubby cheeks! My Mommy thinks there is something wrong with my body. I’m not good enough.
Let’s go outside to play for some fresh air. Fresh air helps us stay healthy. I love to play outside so I     must be healthy! If you don’t eat {xyz healthy food}, you won’t be healthy. I feel great, but I better eat that food so Daddy won’t be mad at me.

Knowing What to Say to Toddlers Helps

In my interactions with parents, I am told they just don’t know what to say when they are in the middle of a tricky situation.

They get stuck.

More importantly, I hear them tell me they’re afraid of hurting their child, causing insecurity or doing further damage, or even knocking down a developing self-esteem.

This can happen when there is a weight problem (a child who carries extra weight or who has a low body weight), in particular.

But knowing what to say–even about the mundane nutrition questions that happen naturally–can really help steer your child down the road of eating enjoyment and help you feel confident at the helm.

Ultimately, how you talk about food, eating and your child’s body matters. Yes, what you say, and your answers, really matter in the long run.

What are some of the response you give to your toddler when food is the topic? How do you make sure you use positive talk with your toddler about food? 

Download a free PDF handout entitled What to Say (And Not Say) to Toddlers!

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