How to use Masterly Inactivity to Win Your Child to Healthy Eating for Life

Jan 9, 2009 by

This post was featured in the Charlotte Mason blog carnival on Aug. 3, 2009.

You want to do something. You could do something. But you don’t.

“Masterly inactivity” describes this choice of the wise parent to restrain, when her urgings, grounded in her culture and upbringing, press her to speak or act.

The child who learns to enjoy what is good for her is the child whose parents have exercised a “wise passiveness,” a purposeful letting alone at the right moments.

What are some ways we can exercise restraint at the right time when serving dinner?

· You can and should purposely cook foods that are “good for you,” but it’s counterproductive to tell your kid your reasons and even worse to take further steps to induce them to eat.

· You have leftovers or other perishables that need to be eaten. Serve them first to a hungry eater. Do you not apologize, grovel or devalue the food. Keep your own counsel.

· You can casually present an interesting fact about food. Food is interesting. You want your child to eat for her health, but make eating something you do because it’s enjoyable in many ways. Most any human will respond more readily to a compelling idea than to commands or being controlled.

· Show them food before you serve it. Let them smell it, touch it. Interest them, arouse their desire and curiosity. Do this with dignity and confidence. Do not beg them or let them know you care whether they eat, or that you suspect that they won’t want to. Act like you assume the best. Anything beyond mild surprise if they don’t eat should be supressed.

· You have a scanty eater. Serve very small servings, even smaller than the appetite. Big servings are what you want to serve, but it will only scare a child’s hunger away more. Let the timid appetite, like an embattled mouse, find its own way out of the hole. Let them ask for more.

The parents must bear the burden of their children’s training, urges educational reformer Charlotte Mason, but “let them bear it with easy grace and an erect carriage as the Spanish peasant bears her water jar.”

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 9 January 2009 / All rights reserved

A mother “must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily, so. This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in its repose.” — Charlotte Mason

5 comments
Cathy
Cathy

Like the above comment, I think teaching about the health benefits of certain foods is a good idea. Especially, sometimes, the kids themselves will bring the subject up. I understand your point, though, on not lecturing kids about what's good for them - just providing healthy foods and lots of variety of healthy foods. And teaching them to enjoy texture, etc. Enjoyable read. Wonderful application of "letting alone".

Holly
Holly

This post was very helpful to me. It is very hard NOT to coerce my son into eating when he doesn't like what is served. He is quite thin, and when he doesn't eat a meal, he throws up the next day. You have really helped me see the light. Thanks!

Jimmie
Jimmie

Wow. This is brilliant! I have two picky eaters -- husband and a child. :-) So it's hard. I don't have the support of the head of the household in eating healthy or trying new things. But I forge ahead! I agree that meals should not become lectures about the health benefits of foods. To be honest, this is a huge irritant when we eat with Chinese friends. They have to state the positive affects of each and every food, "This is good for your liver. This will help your blood." Yeesh! I want to enjoy a meal with friends not visit a pharmacy. How about a plain old "This is delicious"? Rant over.

Lizzie
Lizzie

I'm not sure that it's bad to tell a child why something is good for them. My son and I discuss protein, fiber, vitamins,etc and I teach him what each component does for his health. So when we're eating something, I tell him what components are in that food. Where is he going to learn it from if I never tell him why something is good for him?