Hungry Child: To Fear or Not to Fear?

Dec 19, 2008 by

Children must eat or they will die.  Does that fact scare you or give you a sense of power?

When it comes to eating, in many American families, the children are successfully controlling the fearful parents, who are in turn unsuccessfully trying to control the children.

I heard last week yet another mom complain, “Little Caiden has eaten nothing but tater tots and pickle loaf for the past week.” Another mom sees what I feed my kids and tells me, “My kids would never eat that. How do you get them to eat that?”

All I wonder is: who is furnishing the tater tots and pickle loaf or whatever else that enables a child to refuse perfectly good Real Food and live?  And why? 

My guess is that parents give kids what they want because they are afraid the child will go hungry—which leads to sickness and death or at least a lower IQ—instead of leveraging the very powerful tool of their hunger to entice them to eat Real Food.  

Parents cave in because they think it’s their responsibility to make sure, with no gaps in service, that their kids eat. Something—anything—is better than nothing. They allow the fact that a child will die without food to unsettle them when it should empower them.  So, a child finds herself using food to jerk her parents’ strings.  

On the other hand, the more pushing and controlling by the parents, the more oppositional the child becomes. Many children would rather go hungry than be pushed around, or give up the upper hand.

Jane Nelson, in Positive Discipline, tells about a four-year-old who wouldn’t eat. The mother scolded and pushed. The child had the last word when she ended up with rickets. The doctor told the mom, “Leave her alone! Put nutritious food on the table, eat your own food, and mind your own business. Talk about pleasant things or else keep your mouth shut.”  “As with many controlling methods used with today’s children, it backfired and she had achieved the opposite of what she wanted,” Nelson notes. 

“Several children I’ve known whose appetites were killed by parental urging eventually wanted only olives or pickles or frankfurters,” reports Dr. Benjamin Spock. “They came from families in which these foods were considered harmful to children.”

The foods the parents most value are the ones many children will hate most, and the ones the parents think are bad for them are the ones they will most want to eat, Spock adds. 

So quit making things difficult for yourself, and take comfort in your child’s hunger and need to eat. It’s not something to fear but to leverage. Fear only fulfills itself. You hold a powerful card. Use it to your advantage, and your child’s.


© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 19 December 2008 / All rights reserved