Conversation Cheat Sheet - keep it positive

From by Casey Seidenberg
Conversation Cheat Sheet - keep it positive

I never seem to say the right thing to my kids. I remember feeling that way about my mother and promised myself I wouldn’t be “that mom.” But here I am, uttering words in front of my children’s friends that result in a stare, pleading me to stop talking. Or I offer advice when one of my children is upset and get the annoyed response, “You just don’t understand.” Boy, I’ve wished there were a cheat sheet of what to say to my children.

So I decided to create one, at least for the lone area in which I have a clue: nutrition. Below are some of the ill-considered conversations I’ve heard or been part of, and some preferable options for talking to your kids about food.  Regarding the rest of parenting, I guess I am going to keep saying what I want to say, the first amendment rules, sorry kids.

What the adult says:  “Eat five more bites.”

What the child thinks:  “My parents don’t trust me or think I am capable of deciding when I am full. They’re just trying to control me.”

A better alternative:  “Be sure to get enough to eat now, because it’s a long time till the next meal.”


What the adult says:  “If you eat your vegetables,
you can have dessert.”

What the child thinks:  “There’s no reason to like vegetables. They are only the means to get a sugary snack.”

A better alternative:  “Vegetables can protect you from colds, heal your wounds, help your eyesight and keep your skin healthy.” Then serve dessert — on occasion — to all family members who want it, regardless of how much they have eaten.


What the adult says:  “If you behave, you can have a piece of candy.”

What the child thinks: “Whenever I’m good, I should be rewarded, and rewarded with food.” This message can evolve into a young adult rewarding herself with food and drink — or punishing herself by withholding it.

A better alternative: “I expect you to listen and follow directions.” Leave food out of the discussion.


What the adult says:  “Good job, you finished your meal!”

What the child thinks:  “I’m only good if I clear my plate, even if I am not hungry.”

A better alternative:  “It is always good to listen to your body and eat more when you are hungry and eat less when you are not.”


What the adult says:  “You are so picky!”

What the child thinks:  “I am bad, and I will never like this stuff.”

A better alternative:  “It can take time to develop tastes for different kinds of foods, and sometimes a person needs to try a food 15 times before liking it. Just keep trying.”


What the adult says:  “Your brother is eating his dinner, why aren’t you?”

What the child thinks:  “My brother is a better eater than me. My brother is better than me. My parents love my brother more than me.”

A better alternative:  “Are you hungry? The next meal isn’t until tomorrow, so eat what your body needs.”


What the adult says:  “No more candy because it is bad for you.”

What the child thinks:  “I am bad because I like bad things.”

A better alternative:  “Candy is a ‘sometimes food’ because it has some ingredients that are hard on your body. It isn’t something we should eat all the time or too much of.”



● “The food we eat gives us energy.”

● “A builder uses strong, sturdy, reliable materials to make a house. What materials do you want to be built of?”

● “It is okay to have unhealthy foods sometimes, as long as most of the time we are filling ourselves with healthy choices.”

● “Let’s read this food label together so you know what to choose.”

● “I don’t want to eat anything that sounds as chemical as that, do you?”

● “You should feel proud when you make healthy choices.”

● “I want you to eat healthfully because I love you much.”



For young kids

“D.W. the Picky Eater,” Marc Brown

“Green Eggs & Ham,” Dr. Seuss

“Growing Vegetable Soup,” Lois Elhert

“How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?” Jane Yolen & Marc Teague

“I Will Never, Not Ever Eat a Tomato,” Lauren Child

“Oliver’s Vegetables,” Vivian French

“Over Under in the Garden,” Pat Schories

“Seven Silly Eaters,” Mary Ann Hoberman

For grade-school kids

“The Busy Body Book: A Kid’s Guide to Fitness,” Lizzy Rockwell

For teens

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition,” Michael Pollan

First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, December 16, 2015.