Picky Eaters: It’s Rude! It’s Embarrassing! Eight reasons why nobody should have to eat anything, ever
Imagine you welcome your adult friends, Sharon and James, into your home for dinner. While you’re eating together and chatting amiably, you notice that James doesn’t take any of your cauliflower puree.
“James, you need to take at least one bite of the cauliflower puree,” you tell him.
Then, you notice Sharon is playing with her fried liver and trying to hide it under her pile of cauliflower puree.
“Don’t you like the liver, Sharon?” you ask her. “You’ll have to finish that liver, or you won’t get any of the chocolate cake I made for dessert.”
Of course, you don’t carry on this kind of talk at the table with other adults. We don’t openly scrutinize what our guests eat. We remain cheerful. We pretend we don’t notice and are mortified only inwardly if our adult friends reveal in some subtle way that they don’t like what we’ve cooked. Of course we don’t tell them they have to eat it. Nor do we put them on the spot by forcing them to tell us what they think of it.
Adults likewise generally try to conceal it if they don’t like our fried liver or cauliflower puree. Instead, they generally make some positive comments on the food we’ve cooked, sincere or otherwise, and keep any negative reactions to themselves, at least until they are in the car going home.
Why don’t we carry on conversation like the one above? Is it just that we can’t control our adult friends; we aren’t big enough to force them to eat our fried liver? Or is it that we respect their right to decide what they put in their own mouths?
Or maybe the question should be: why do we talk this way with children?
1. Making somebody eat something, however we accomplish it, may work short-term, but long term, it only makes him want to eat it even less. It aggravates the problem, long-term. Making a child eat something never, ever works in a positive way.
2. It makes for really boring, annoying table conversation for everybody present. It’s rude, just as it is in the above scenario. It’s embarrassing to all present. And it forces the child to be rude in turn. Being pressured to eat means a child has to give reasons why he doesn’t want to. It naturally calls forth resistance, with unnecessary and demoralizing insults to the food and the cook, which should never be spoken aloud. We cannot be rude to people who cook. That is a immutable rule of life. Yet, we force our children into that corner.
3. It’s force feeding. Think about that concept for awhile.
4. It teaches children to ignore their own appetites and bodies, and eat whether their body is telling them to or not. They may actually refuse to eat even when they want to, also, just to assert themselves. Either way, it’s messed up.
5. It shows a lack of respect to the child as a person. Parents have the right to insist on good behavior and good manners, but eating is not an issue of obedience, any more than wearing a coat. It’s a natural act. How would you like to be pressured to eat?
6. If the child hasn’t filled up on snacks between meals, he will be hungry and will naturally want to eat, unless he becomes resistant to the forcing. There are so much and so many better ways to get kids to eat than simply forcing or bribing.
7. If a child is a problem feeder, not just a picky eater, force feeding is even more objectionable and counterproductive. Kids can be trusted to eat for themselves, if they don’t have a medical problem, oral motor issue or sensory processing issue. And if they do have an issue, we really must leave them alone about what they eat, while getting them the help they need. Forcing is the worst thing you can do.
8. It’s only good for you if you like it, anyway, at least one study suggests.
Lest anyone think I am advocating letting kids be rude about food, a related post: It’s Rude! It’s Embarrassing Part II.