Suzuki Gives A Lesson in Getting Kids to Eat: How to Fake It Until You Make It

Dec 10, 2008 by

SUZUKI’S PLAN TO INCREASE THE APPETITE for learning music also works at the dinner table. — photo by Anna Migeon 

My daughter started piano with the Suzuki method, with a real Suzuki teacher, not one of those that use the method as an excuse for an absence of actual teaching.

Suzuki’s method offers us an unusual lesson in feeding children, whether it’s food, knowledge, or skills we are trying to impart. Suzuki says to end the lesson before the child’s interest flags. Stop while you’re ahead, while it’s still fun, while they still want more.

Something in me, as the paying parent, wanted a longer piano lesson. If some is good, more is better, right?

In our culture of viewing of the child as a naturally passive, even resistant force of inertia against all that parents want for them, Suzuki’s advice is radically counter-intuitive.  We generally consider it safe to push children until outright revulsion or even gagging appears.

If we push, we might be able, in the immediate term, to impart a little more knowledge, get a few more bites of target food down her throat. But how does that pushing affect the appetite—her own precious inner drive for the good things we want her to want?

Suzuki’s loftier goal was to gently fan that tiny inner flame of natural desire and interest. My daughter would go home still propelled by her own desire to play more on her own.

Likewise, advised Dr. Benjamin Spock, end the meal as soon as the child loses interest. Do not ask for “one more bite.” Rather, take the plate away and let him ask for more.

“It’s easy to state the rule: always let a baby or a child stop eating just as soon as indifference appears,” Spock explained. “That’s the way to preserve the child’s God-given appetite at its very best. That’s also the way to keep the child ideally nourished.”

When I was a kid and one of us didn’t want to eat something, my mom used to say, “Good! Saves more for the rest of us.”

My mom didn’t seem to care if we ate it or not at the time. Or maybe she was being cheap. But she also believed in our appetites, and her subtle reverse psychology encouraged us to eat while seeming to discourage us. She fed us, and since we needed to eat, we would, with no further interference from her. 

Once you quit making it your job to get your child to eat, and your child quits reacting, then you can become sincere about not worrying whether she eats or not. But, in the meantime, fake it till you make it: have faith in the appetite, and give that job back to its rightful owner.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon December 10, 2008 All Rights Reserved