Division of Responsibility


Alex is a four year old child who has just sat down for dinner. He is comfortably sitting in his booster seat next to his three year old sister, Alicia. They are both eyeing the options that have been set out on the dinner table. His parents are deliberate about scheduling dinner for the same time every night. 6:00 sharp. Some nights this requires advance planning, such as putting food into a slow cooker in the morning, or pre-washing and preparing vegetables. But because human bodies become accustom to eating at the same time, this has proved to be a valuable way to keep the evening routine running smoothly. When dinner time was sporadic, the children would get overly hungry some nights, making them extra grumpy, or not be hungry at all. And then this all managed to escalate into a nightmare of a bedtime.

                On the table are a number of options for Alex to choose from. His parents were sure to make only one meal for the entire family, but to include a couple of things they knew everyone liked. So, in addition to the broccoli and chicken casserole, there are also some cut up oranges segments, some whole wheat bread, and cooked peas. Alex is most proud to see the oranges on the table, as he helped to cut them up with a plastic butter knife!

                Once everyone is seated, they begin to serve themselves. Alex takes a scoop of the oranges, a slice of bread, and some peas. He does not take any casserole.

What should his father do about the fact that Alex did not take any of the casserole?

Division of Responsibility: Overview

Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers! When parents are nurturing and caring, children feel safe to explore and learn about the world. Parents’ actions and attitudes are important in creating healthy environments for children’s development, especially when it comes to raising healthy eaters.

An important skill that children need is self-regulation. This means that children are able to control their emotions and behaviors. Self-regulation develops as children grow.
Research shows that young people’s success in the area of self-regulation is associated with school success and healthy behaviors. Children who have not gained skills in self-regulation are more likely to have trouble making friends and participate in risky behaviors.

Parents can foster the growth of self-regulation. The most import way is to model positive behaviors. Children learn from watching their parents. This is accomplished by showing self-control in words and actions even when frustrated or upset. Parents also need to set boundaries to provide a structured environment that is predictable. Parents should reward positive behaviors. As children grow they need to be involved in decision-making and given choices to help build their skills.

Self-regulation is important when it comes to healthy eating. Young children have a natural ability to regulate their intake of food to get what they need to grow. This natural ability declines with age. As children get older they need to learn how to actively regulate their dietary behaviors to eat a healthy diet. Parents help build this skill through what is known as a division of responsibility. Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding points out parent and child roles.

  • It is the parent's role to decide:
    • what to serve.
    • where and when to eat.
  • It is the child's role to decide:
    • whether to eat.
    • how much to eat of the food offered.
Nutrition Educator Training

Read the Scenario at the top of this page.

Then read through the materials on Division of Responsibility: Overview, Application, and Tips.

Note the Additional Resources (but you do not need to read them all at this time).

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