When I have certain conflicts and problems, my husband tells me, “Get the Monkey off Your Back.” This means that I shouldn’t let other people’s problems become my own. In a famous article in the Harvard Business Review (originally published in 1974 and one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever), the author gives a great example of letting the monkey onto your back. A manager is walking down the hallway, and a subordinate starts talking about a problem. The manager agrees to think about the issue and come up with a solution. By the end of the short conversation, the problem—the Monkey—has become the manager’s, not the subordinate’s.
When it comes to picky kids, the parent becomes the manager who assumes responsibility for their picky subordinate.
A giant first step in dealing with picky eating is to take the monkey off your back and give it back to the child.
Do you stress out when invited to a party or barbeque, because you don’t know if your child will be able to eat the food? Do you bring special food to a party or dinner? Do you scan restaurant menus before you go, making sure there’s something on the menu for your child? Do you avoid social situations because of your child’s food difficulties? And…most of all, do you make multiple meals, short-order cooking to meet your picky kid’s preference?
In all of these examples, you are carrying her monkey!
To give the monkey back to your child, we need to:
- Empower him
- Be empathetic
- Prepare him/her to deal with any situation
Going to a restaurant? Tell your child you are confident they will be able to find something on the menu to eat. Place the decision in his hands and let him order (if he isn’t old enough to read the menu, you can assist without getting entrenched).
Going to a party or barbeque at someone’s house? Of course you can provide a good meal a couple hours beforehand. Then empower your child—“I know you’ll be able to find something to eat. Even if they’re not serving what you’re used to, you’ll be able to manage.”
Multiple meals? Explain to your child that you understand they have strong likes and dislikes, but that they will be able to manage just fine. Tell him that you will make just ONE meal, with no alternates, and he’s in charge of what they eat from what you serve. Tell her that her food issues are hers—not yours!
Will this solve pickiness? Will your chicken-nugget lover suddenly start ordering lobster and broccoli? No! The goal is to stop being ruled by her pickiness, and stop altering her environment to meet her preferences.
When you are able to stop caring for his monkey, and let him carry it instead, you will feel lighter and more free. You can problem-solve with your child, sure, but adjust the responsibility to his shoulders, not yours.
Harvard Business Review link: