As parents, we all spend a lot of time thinking about what our kids are eating. Are they eating enough? Too much? How can we know? I’m a big believer in teaching our kids to trust their bodies through how we feed them—but the words we use are really important too.
How to Talk to Your Toddler About Feeling Full
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I talk to my daughter at the table in terms of feeling full. I’ve been doing the same thing, more or less, since she started eating, before she could totally understand what I was saying, because I want to help her connect the dots with how her body feels and what she’s eating.
That, for so many women, is something they don’t learn to later on and I really am hoping to help her avoid the struggles with body image and disordered eating that I had through my teens and twenties. Here are a few pointers if this is something you want to start doing with your kids.
1. Let them determine their hunger and fullness.
As I am sure you know, there are days when your toddler will eat and eat, and then there are others where he will just pick. That’s normal! Because of that, I strongly believe that we need to let our kids determine their own hunger, eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full.
Most kids intuitively know how to do that, so when we tell them they’ve had enough because we think they have, we’re teaching them not to trust themselves. For more on how to let them decide which foods and how much to eat from what you serve, read about the feeding principle called the Division of Responsibility.
2. Teach them words to describe how their body feels.
We use “full” and “fullness” most often because they are not negative, but are very clear in terms what they mean. So I say, “Does your belly feel full? Do you feel like you have any more room for food?” I try not to tell my kids when they’ve had enough because only they know how their body feels and I want them to be able to make that choice for themselves. This will take time to set in as your kids become more verbal and able to articulate the way their body is feeling.
3. Take breaks.
If someone asks for seconds (or thirds) of something and the rest of us haven’t had a chance to have more yet, I often ask them to take a little break to see if they still feel hungry once the other people at the table have caught up. We wipe hands, clean faces, take a drink, look at something out the window, and then talk about how their belly feels.
I try to explain in very simple terms about how it can take time for the food we put into our mouths to reach our bellies, so we need to give it a few minutes to see if we’re ready to be done or not. I do not make anyone feel guilty for asking for more food, nor do I tell them they can’t have more. We simply give it a few minutes and see.
4. Remind that there will always be enough food.
Sometimes, kids get worried that their favorite foods will disappear and the same thing that happens to us adults can kick in—scarcity mindset that can often have us eating beyond fullness. To help with this if it seems to be happening in your house, remind the kids that there will always be enough food and if we run out, we’ll be sure to get more at the store the next time we’re there.
They may have feelings about this—and it is normal if they do. You could also offer any leftovers to be saved for them to have the following day. My kids have been known to have mac and cheese for breakfast at times when they’ve been so excited about it and were worried about not having a chance to eat the leftovers.
For more on toddler appetites, this post may help.