Feeding Children Made Easy: Parenting Sun-Style Instead of North Wind-Style

Apr 13, 2009 by

North wind At the dinner table, are you more like the North Wind or more like the Sun?

One of Aesop’s fables tells of an argument between the North Wind and the Sun about which was the more powerful. When a traveler passes by, the two decide that whichever one can strip him of his cloak will be declared the victor.

The North Wind blasts the man with all his strength, trying to forcibly remove his clothing, but the more the wind blows, the closer the traveler wraps his cloak around him. Finally the North Wind gives up and the Sun takes its turn. The Sun shines on the man with all his warmth. As soon as the traveler feels the heat, he begins to take off one layer after another. He ends up stripping down to bathe in a stream that crosses his path.

Sun and wind

Like a parent who wants her child to eat vegetables, the North Wind and the Sun in the parable each has his own agenda in wanting the man to take off his clothes.  Their motives mean nothing to the man (who cares only about his own comfort), any more than a young child cares about vitamins, trans fats, IQ, diabetes or cancer. The difference in results is that one approach works in conflict with human nature, and the other understands and leverages it.

Some parents work very hard, like the North Wind, to make sure their kids eat certain things. Some parents who highly value control and compliance may require a child to eat what they’re told to eat because “I said so,” or any number of other reasons they might give.

Once when I got my kids to eat something simply by acting like I didn’t want to give them any, a relative cautioned me, “But they’re not learning to obey.”  That stance that places little faith in the child’s appetite and ability to feed himself without constant intervention.

Other parents may work equally hard to feed their children well, but put their effort rather into making healthy meals appealing and enjoyable. They do not try to compel them to go against their will, like the North Wind, but they just make them willing to go, like the Sun.

Dinner time becomes a cooperative venture when the parent gently but consistently exploits a child’s hunger. From behind the scenes, the parent prepares a wide range of healthy foods that smell, look and taste great. Matter-of-factly offering no other options, she keeps a positive atmosphere at the table. This wisely passive parent lets nature take its course to reach her goal. She knows that a child’s inborn appetite and need for nourishment, unimpeded, can be a force in her favor as strong as gravity, or sun or wind.

Eating is a natural act, neither praise- or blame-worthy, nor a question of obedience and respect of parents. There is no more virtue or vice in eating or not than in wearing a coat or not, if a body is allowed to do its job of taking care of itself, and the parent does her job of providing delicious, nutritious meals.

“The art of standing aside,” as educator and educational philosopher Charlotte Mason called it, is often the better part of the job of a parent who respects the child as a person, values her feelings and trusts her appetite to play its part.

The moral of the story? Don’t battle your child’s appetites and feelings, like the North Wind, but put them to work for you, like the Sun.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 13 April 2009 / All rights reserved

This post was featured on the Charlotte Mason blog carnival on Aug. 30, 2010.

6 comments
Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Nancy, thanks for reading and for your comment! I appreciate it.

Nancy
Nancy

Agreed. As with food, so with education in that is our job to set before them a very rich banquet. Thanks for sharing this!

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Thanks for your comment, Nadene! It sounds like you're having good luck with getting your kids involved in growing their own food! It's not always easy to do that. Do you have any tips for us? Things you've learned?

Nadene
Nadene

I'm really inspired by several principles you describe, but I absolutely love, "Eating is a natural act, neither praise- or blame-worthy, nor a question of obedience and respect of parents." How easy it is to talk like our parents did about food. We eat a lot of food we grow in our garden and there is so much gained from planting, watering, harvesting and eating veggies fresh from the garden. This is where gratitude and genuine appreciation come in. And it tastes so good fresh!

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

Dear Gerard, thanks for your question! It’s definitely important for kids to learn obedience and respect. We certainly can and should expect both from children. We can insist they sit at the table, and be polite. We can and should insist on good habits. We should not, however, insist they eat something they do not want to eat, any more than we would force them to wear a coat if they are hot, or not let them wear a coat if they are cold, just to make them obey. Eating is a natural act, like using the toilet, you could say. It’s not a moral issue or matter of obedience. It’s often undue parental interference that gets kids acting neurotic about these natural functions. Kids need to be learning to listen to their bodies: to eat when they are hungry and to not eat when they are not hungry (our job is to make sure the right foods are available at the right time and to condition them to like healthy food, not force them to eat). We can insist that eating take place at the table at dinner time, and not at other times. Just because we have prepared food for them is not a good reason to eat it. I would say, “You must not be hungry right now. But if you are, now is the time to eat. There won’t be anything later.” Let them get hungry, get out of the way, and they will eat next time. Guaranteed. Force feeding of any kind tends to just make kids resistant to eating and suspicious of food. It tends to erode their natural good appetites. It’s picky kids who are rude about food when they visit other people’s homes. Avoiding that pickiness begins at home, mainly by getting off their backs and letting them eat because they’re hungry (and not dulling their appetite with substitutes for real food) and for no other reason.

Gerard
Gerard

Brilliant analogy. Trying to motivate children just by what motivates us doesn't work, does it? I find the bombarding of health conscious ads for kids iritating. What about the ideas of obedience and respect, such as expecting the child to eat the food because we have prepared it. Do we throw them out the window?