By Lynne Forrest
We discount a natural, powerful, highly effective tool for teaching our kids essential skills for life, when we fail to use food and the ritual of family mealtime to support life lessons. We have this powerful motivator called food readily available to us for teaching purposes, if we but knew to take advantage of it! After all, every human being must eat EVERY DAY to live. What better way to inspire our children to cooperate and take responsibility for themselves than by using the incentive of hunger and good food to eat?
Why not use this daily ritual and favorite pastime of most humans, for instruction? Not just to teach them to ‘eat their veggies,’ but also to show them how to come into healthier relationships with themselves, their family, and the world?
Before I go further, let me explain that our ultimate goal for each and every child is to offer them tools that will prepare them to live life in Reality, and thrive. Daniel and I recognize that every moment is a teaching moment with children; and that desire is the motivation behind everything we do with children.
Repeatedly, we have found that mealtime offers the BEST teaching moments for kids. For one thing, when kids come to the table hungry (meaning they haven’t been nibbling on snacks all morning), we have their complete attention.
We ask them to eat salad, or the healthier foods first. We find it best to start with SMALL SERVINGS (we set ourselves up for failure when we ask our children to eat a plate of food based on adult size portions). A couple of bits of lettuce, a little chunk of tomato, a black olive, two bites of carrot, etc. serves as a salad for a 3 to 8 year old (they can always request more after they have eaten what’s been served them).
We teach children that they have the same choice that all humans have, to either go along with Reality, or to resist it. Resisting Reality hurts more. This is true whether we are 10 or 60 years old. We can fight against Reality, but sooner or later, we start to notice that Reality wins – every time. And no amount of our blustering against it changes that simple fact. So, again, we get to decide whether to go on fighting against it, OR to find a way to not only make peace with the way things are, but to even learn how to use the way things are to work for us! This is the road to peace.
To children, we, as parents and caregivers, are their Reality. How we interact with them teaches them what to expect from the world. When we ask our children to eat everything on their plate, but then don’t hold firm with that expectation, we teach them that resisting Reality works. The more we cave in on boundaries set, rules established, or consequences promised, but undelivered, the more we reinforce the unhappy belief that they can outsmart, outwit, beg, plead, whine or weep enough, and Reality will give them what they want.
But you and I know that is not usually the case outside the shelter of the family. When we as parents can no longer shape, soften, manipulate our children’s reality to make it more comfortable for them, the world steps in and is not nearly so kind. Suddenly, our children find themselves, as adults, feeling battered by life as a result of throwing themselves headfirst against the walls of Reality, trying to win a battle they can never win; instead they only hurt themselves, and those who try to rescue them.
Making peace with Reality is just one of the many lessons our kids can learn at mealtime.
We ask our children to eat healthy food whether they like it or not, simply because it is fuel and medicine for the body. It is part of what they must do to learn how to take proper care of themselves. And we ask them to eat their food whether they like it or not, because we understand that Reality often asks us to “swallow” things in life that we don’t necessarily like, and it is important to learn how to make peace with it, as a kinder way to treat ourselves.
Here’s a sample lesson offered during mealtime that occurred at our most recent family weekend intensive.
It was at lunch the first day of our Victim Free Parenting Retreat, and the nine year old spoke to me with wonder in his voice, “How do you know this stuff? I never heard any of this before!” I had simply asked him if it was the beans on his fork that was making him hold his nose, or if it was the thought, “beans make me sick” that had him doing it. I followed with another question for this precious nine year old genius, who had decided he could not, no way, no-how, eat the beans that had been served to him for lunch. “What would be different right now, do you suppose, about those five black beans on your fork if you weren’t thinking the thought, “beans make me sick?” Immediately he said, “Well I probably wouldn’t be holding my nose, would I?”
“Hmmm … probably not!” I replied, “did you know that you don’t have to believe what you think about beans? You could make friends with your beans instead!”
Suddenly he SAW it! He had a choice! We both laughed out loud. It took a few minutes for him to translate the lesson to the fork, but he did, and before we knew it, the whole group was celebrating with him his choice to cooperate with Reality by eating his beans! But none were as proud of his accomplishment as he was for himself! He had chosen to make peace with the Reality of beans for lunch!
Nobody forced him to eat his beans; he had the right, we informed him, to choose not to eat them (and we would understand, there was no punishment, no judgment for his choice). However, all choices carry consequences (another life lesson learned at the dinner table) and we must pay the price for whatever choice we make. To choose not to eat his beans meant he would have to miss out on the activities planned for the afternoon, until and unless he chose to eat them.
This precocious nine year old chose to eat the beans on his plate BECAUSE he preferred the consequence of that choice, which was a chance to participate with his friends that afternoon in fun activities!
He, like each of us must,learned that when we choose to go along with Reality, we are happy, and when we choose to resist Reality, we suffer. It’s that simple. This nine year old was learning something that many of us, as adults, have not yet realized.
This is one true example of life lessons learned at mealtime. Here are some other lessons we can teach at mealtimes:
How to prepare food, season it, it’s medicinal value, and what part of the body it benefits
How to listen to the body, and discipline the senses
How to befriend Reality
How to be a good listener
Gratitude for what we have
How to share
Politeness and good manners
Appropriate boundaries & respect
How to prepare good food
Self-control & self-discipline
Acceptance of Reality (“No, you cannot have something else to eat, this is what we’re having.”)
How to be a good helper & team player
Spiritual connection through family bonding
Obedience and cooperation
… and much more!
Family’s that come together at mealtime, even two or three times a week, offer a place of connection where real life happens – a place where important lessons of life can be taught in words, but more importantly, lessons are shared through the use of Reality based tools that can be ‘served up’ along with good, nutritious food at mealtime.
So much can be accomplished at mealtime that you may find it worthy of the time and effort involved in preparing a meal to sit down together with your family for a life of learning that will feed us, and our children, for a lifetime.
For more articles on raising kids in Reality, check out our Reality Formula for Kids™ at www.realityformula.com