Conversation at our dinner table:
Me: Eat your bhindi
Daughter: I don’t want to
Me: Don’t waste food. Do you know how many people exist who do not get enough to eat, let alone nutritious food?
Daughter: Can we send my bhindi to them?
I’m sure this conversation resonates with a lot of parents. Behind the smart-alecky response that I received, there is an important point. We simply can’t get our children to do something because it is good for them, it helps the world, or because it is the right thing to do (for that matter, neither can we persuade ourselves – think of all the times we have resisted cake because it is not good for our body – you get the picture :-). So, what can we do to help our kids make healthier choices? There is a lot of research on this and today this article will focus on one such strategy – Repeated Exposure.
What is Repeated Exposure?
Repeated Exposure is something that advertisers use very well. Think of this scenario: You are grocery shopping and you want to buy a drink. There are two brands on the shelf and you are more familiar with one brand (they both have the same price). Which one are you more likely to buy? In most cases, you will choose the drink that you are familiar with. Why? This is because you have seen the brand multiple times and this creates a feeling of familiarity and therefore, safety – which means you are more likely to buy this brand. This is also why during a TV programme you see the same advertisement again and again.
Now you might think, what does this have to do with our children and their eating habits?
The answer is that Repeated Exposure is a hook that we can use to help our children become more familiar with healthy food and thereby influence them to make healthier choices.
Research suggests that if we were to give our children bhindi, peas, karela, or any such food that we want them to eat repeatedly (every other week or so) without creating a fuss when they don’t eat it, at some point, they will start eating it.
Making Repeated Exposure work
The main thing to remember is that we must not create a negative environment while giving them this food (i.e., we should not be arguing or shouting at them). We simply need to give them a little bit, encourage them to try (and be OK if they don’t want to) and eat it ourselves.
After a while (the exact amount of time will depend on the personality of the child), our children will be willing to eat these foods. The reason why this hook works is because this food will gradually become associated with a safe environment (which our brain instinctively likes) and kids will be more likely to choose them in future. You can think of the food that you most crave when you are ill – it will be something that you have eaten as a child (when you felt safe, cared, and loved for).
I am happy to report that this has certainly worked in our house. Why don’t you try it too and let us know whether it has made a difference?