Family Meals Focus

The Ellyn Satter Institute Newsletter

Troubleshooting with the division of responsibility in feeding

by Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and family Therapist

Following the division of responsibility in feeding (sDOR) takes steady nerves and a leap of faith. It seems simple: you do the whatwhen, and where of feeding, your child does the how much and whether of eating. But sDOR only works when all the parts are in place. You must be both faithful about doing your feeding jobs and scrupulous about letting your child do her eating jobs. That is a big change. We are used to being casual about structure and controlling with what and how much we and our children eat. 

Parents need reassurance about sDOR

These Facebook concerns from parents all start out, “we are following (or we are ‘trying’”) the Satter division of responsibility in feeding.  

  • My 4-year-old sneaks candy and cookies and hides from me while she eats them.
  • My 6-year-old is still not eating as much as he should, and he demands special food.
  • Since I stopped restricting my 10 year old, she seems to be gaining even more weight. 
  • My 8-year-old loves to eat and still eats a lot—more than her father.
  • My 1.5-year-old used to eat a lot but now his list of “acceptable” foods is getting shorter and he acts disgusted by foods that he used to enjoy.
  • My 7-year-old oves sweets and still won’t eat any vegetable or fruit besides pickles and bananas.
  • My 4-year-old won’t taste new food. He spits it out and says “yucky.” He won’t smell or lick it either.
  • My 3-year-old won’t eat at meals and constantly begs for food between times.

sDOR takes commitment, time and effort

  • You can’t try sDOR; you have to do it.
  • It isn’t easy to feed five or six times a day, day in and day out forever!
  • It isn’t easy to trust your child to do her part with eating.
  • It isn’t easy to let your child grow up in the way that is right for her.

Instituting sDOR takes time

The division of responsibility in feeding (sDOR) only works when all the parts are in place. You must be faithful about doing your feeding jobs and scrupulous about letting your child do her eating jobs.

  • It takes a while to institute structure and let go of being controlling with what and how much your child eats.
  • After that, it takes a while for your child to trust you really mean it and become relaxed and comfortable around eating. Once sDOR is firmly in place, infants take a day or two, toddlers, a week, preschoolers, 2 or 3 weeks, and school-age children, a month to six weeks.
  • It takes a while to stop your impulse to give up or get controlling and figure out what is wrong when your child is negative, upset, and anxious about eating.
  • It takes a while to remember that when feeding falls apart, either structure is eroding or restriction, in all its sneaky, devious, insidious ways, is creeping in. Or both.

Observe and understand your child 

  • Review child feeding ages and stages. Which stage best describes your child? Go by what your child does, not how old s/he is.
  • Review children’s eating and growth. What is normal growth for your child?
  • Is your child relaxed and comfortable at meal- and snack-time? Children fed according to sDOR behave in ways that please their parents.
  • Does your child sneak and hide food? You may be portioning food or restricting in other ways. Your food may be too low in fat or you are being too strict about avoiding forbidden food.
  • Does your child eat as much as she can, whenever she can? You are likely to be restricting food, either directly or indirectly.  
  • Does your child behave badly at mealtime? Are you are pressuring her to eat, either directly or indirectly. Or maybe you need to teach and model positive mealtime behavior.

Evaluate structure: it may be slipping – or nonexistent 

  • Children beg for food when they fear they won’t be fed or when they are rewarded for begging by being given food handouts. 
  • Letting children panhandle for food keeps them from being hungry and interested in eating mealtime food.
  • To feel safe and behave well around food, children need structure: predictable meals and sit-down snacks between meals and at bedtime.

Other stuff to consider

  • Pressuring, agenda-laden words. Do you say your child won’t eat or you can’t get your child to eat. Do you talk about what or how much your child should eat or is supposed to eat?
  • Do you have a vegetable (also-known-as nutritious food) agenda or any other food agenda?
  • Is your child sensitive to tastes and textures and cautious about new experiences? Did she have early negative experiences around eating. She will learn, but it takes time and you must not pressure.  
  • Your own eating competence. You will do best with feeding when you enjoy eating and let yourself eat as much as you want of food you find appealing.
  • Are others trying to get your child to eat – or not eat? Are they telling her she should be bigger or smaller?
  • What your child tells you. Older kids can understand the division of responsibility in feeding, and they will tell you when you are making mistakes. Expect them to tell you politely.
  • Consider video-recording yourself and studying what you do in feeding. It will help you pick up on your being pressuring, restricting, failing to provide structure, or teaching and modeling negative mealtime behavior.




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