Parents provide, children decide

Do you feel like you’re failing as a parent when your child doesn’t eat what you’ve offered to them? In this blog, we share a powerful and transformative feeding approach that will change how you think about feeding your kids.

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding is a responsive approach to feeding children and it is recommended internationally as a best-practice. The approach was developed by Ellen Satter, a renowned expert on eating and feeding who has more than 40 years of clinical experience as a Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist.

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding posits that feeding is a shared responsibility:

  • caregivers are responsible for feeding, and
  • children are responsible for eating.

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding can be applied at every stage throughout a child’s growing up years, from birth to adolescence. Whilst the principles of the approach remain the same, there are differences in the specific roles that are carried out by caregivers and children during infancy, compared to toddlerhood and beyond.

Feeding roles during infancy

During early infancy, parents and caregivers are responsible for the what of feeding (e.g., breastmilk and/or formula) and they pay close attention to and rely on information coming from their baby regarding the timing, frequency, tempo, and amount.

As infants develop and become more regular in their eating patterns, parents and caregivers guide their baby to transition from breast- and/or formula-feeding, through the introduction of solids to family meals. During this period, parents and caregivers are still responsible for the what of feeding and gradually take on responsibility for the when and where of feeding. The child is still and always responsible for deciding whether, and how much to eat.

Feeding roles from toddlerhood to adolescence

As the parent or caregiver, you are responsible for feeding your child. Your role is to decide:

  • When food will be served
  • Where food will be served, and
  • What foods and drinks will be served.

Once you have done your job with feeding, it is now time to hand over the responsibility of eating to your child.

Children are responsible for deciding:

  • whether to eat, and
  • how much they want to eat from the food and drinks you have offered them.

In other words: parents provide, and children decide!

Provide leadership and give autonomy

While the principles of the Division of Responsibility are simple, the approach can be challenging to implement. As a parent, it can be hard to let go of the idea that you need to ‘get your child to eat’, or that you’re a terrible parent if your kids do not eat everything you offer them.

The Division of Responsibility is based on trust and encourages parents or caregivers to take leadership with feeding, whilst also giving kids autonomy with eating.

By following this approach, you will help your kids to:

  • intuitively eat as much as they need
  • grow in the way that is right for them
  • learn to like and enjoy a variety of foods
  • have positive attitudes about food, eating, and their bodies, and
  • learn to behave well at mealtimes.

Ellyn Satter Institute. (2022). Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed.

Satter, E. (1995). Feeding dynamics: Helping children to eat well. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 9(4), 178–184.

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