My name is Kathleen and I am the owner of Cottontail Baby and Mamaclothonline. I live in Minnesota with my husband and our three young, active, sports-obsessed sons. Like many moms out there, I try my best every day to live a green life and do right by my family, friends and community. While I often fall short of my ideal, I always keep trying.
I have been struck recently by the number of articles and self-help books that advocate tricking or lying to our children in order to get them to do what it is we want them to do. Trick your kids into eating their vegetables. Trick your kids into thinking school is cool. Trick your kids into reading. Trick your kids into helping around the house.
I am rather astounded at all of this. Why do we have to lie to get our kids to do what we want them to do or what is best for them? How do our children benefit from our manipulation and subterfuge? (Full disclosure: I live in a house in which Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are very much alive and present. That might make me a hypocrite and I can live with that.)
If you want your children to eat their vegetables than make them a part of every meal and model eating vegetables. Grow them in your garden and have your kids help. We have a four colors on your plate every meal rule and often talk with our kids about what colors would be fun to eat at dinner and pick the appropriate veggie (orange - bell peppers or carrots, green - beans or asparagus, red - tomatoes or beats, blue - corn or potatoes, yellow - summer squash). Have them help prepare the meal. Even a toddler can hang beside mom or dad with his or her own little bowl and spoon -- who cares if it messy? In my experience most of parenting is.
I never did understand how children would benefit, in the long run, from hiding pureed carrots in the chocolate chip cookies or spinach in the brownies. What is the end game here? If kids don’t ever eat vegetables as vegetables what happens when they are older and their parents no longer sneak them into their sweets? Will they miraculously start enjoying vegetables and make them part of their daily diet then? Perhaps. But not likely. Sending the message that desserts are good and veggies are bad doesn't help anyone. When they find out that their parents have been lying to them all these years, what will that do their parent/child relationship now that trust has been violated? Finally, you take away from the child the ability to actually develop a love for vegetables. Who knows, maybe they will surprise you and end up liking it but you never gave them the chance to do so. Let's all remember the often quoted parenting philosophy that you must try a new food multiple times before you develop a taste for it. Don't take that opportunity away from them.
I feel the same way regarding tricking your kids into reading or helping around the house. They should develop a love of reading for readings sake and not because they were manipulated into it. In our house, my husband and I model reading and our children follow. Even when they were little bitty toddlers they would pick up books and point to words and mutter jibberish in an imitation of my husband and me. Cute. For parents who trick or bribe their kids into reading, how will they maintain the passion and joy once the subterfuge has ended?
Children should help around the house because they are part of the family and not because they were tricked into it. We don’t do allowances in our home. Our children help with chores because they live here too and everyone pitches in. If they need something, they receive money for it as we are a family and we do our best to meet each others needs. If they want something that is not a need, they can wait until their birthday or Christmas or a particularly indulgent grandparent comes to visit (it helps to be part of a culture in which cash is often given as a gift). Often, a little waiting allows them to realize they really didn’t want it after all.
Recognizing the best laid parenting plans get blown apart as our little ones imprint their own personalities on our ideals, what are your plans? As your infants turn into toddlers and breast milk makes way for solids, are you going to obscure the vegetables on your child’s plate? Are you going to trick them into the behaviors you want or encourage them on their own?
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