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.