Dinner Table Affirmation: How to be more while doing less

Sep 4, 2009 by


My now-teenage son in the early 90’s–photo by Anna Migeon

In every relationship with another human being one either affirms or denies. There is no in-between!” states Conrad W. Baars, M.D. Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation.

According to Baars, it is essential to a child’s emotional health to feel affirmed from a young age, to be accepted and appreciated unconditionally.

From the first day of life, eating is a place of either affirmation or denial, of personal acceptance or rejection for a child. Eating is the daily opportunity to nurture the parent-child relationship and to demonstrate affirmation or to fail to do so.

Examples of denial Baars gives include propping up a baby’s bottle on a pillow while the parents do their own thing, and a cartoon of a child all alone looking at a birthday cake with electric candles and a tape recording of “Happy Birthday” playing. Eating, like so many things in life, is a vehicle for relating to our children and others, for better or for worse.

Recent books like The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious assume an adversarial relationship between children and parents at the table. The false dilemma these authors operate in is that either we hound, beg, bribe our children to eat the right things, or we outwit them into doing so.  Either way, we disrespect our child, and deny, among other things, the child’s inborn ability to love good things and to be reasonable and self-sufficient.

Affirmation, Baars writes, is “not primarily a matter of doing something to another, but a state of being.” His advice: “You need only to do less and to be more, for your own sake as well as that of others.”

So in what ways are we sources of affirmation or denial with our children at the table?

Evidence of affirming relationships at the family table:

· Encouragement to tune into their own appetites:  “Are you hungry?” “You must not be hungry today.” “How much would you like?”

· Calm, understanding conversation, like: “I can see you feel like playing right now, but now is time to eat. Later there won’t be anything to eat. You don’t have to eat but you do have to come to the table.”

· Allowing them to feed themselves as much as they are able and to choose from what’s offered.

· Offering the healthiest, tastiest foods possible and trusting children to be in charge of their own food intake.

· Listening, acknowledging and accepting their feelings about hunger or tastes, or other subjects.

· Taking away food calmly when they begin to throw it around or obviously lose interest.

· Letting them ask for what they would like to eat.

· Reassurance that they will get enough to eat, if that’s a fear.

· Giving small servings to small eaters.

· Pleasant and calm conversation at the table, parents showing interest in spending time with children.

· Gentle insistence on age-appropriate good manners at the table.

· Family meals as a priority and planning ahead for healthy meals.

· Parents enjoying healthy foods themselves.

· Taking time and effort to let children help in the kitchen, garden and grocery store.

Evidence of denial through feeding:

· Micromanaging children’s eating.

· Letting children misbehave while pressuring them to eat.

· Being too busy to cook and sit down for meals with them.

· Leaving kids to regularly forage alone in the kitchen for themselves.

· Parents buying easy junk they know children will eat without effort from them.

· Letting them eat whatever they want in the name of “learning to make choices” or so that they will be “happy” or even so they will “like us.”

· Not caring enough to say no to harmful foods.

· Giving children soda and candy to keep them out of the parent’s hair at the grocery store.

· Not being informed about good nutritional choices.

· Not providing experience and knowledge to guide children in their eating.

· Denial of their ability to regulate their own eating: urging or insisting that a child eat something he doesn’t want, or eat more than or less than he wants.

· The “clean plate” rule.

· Bribing them to eat something they don’t want or making something they do want contingent on eating something they don’t.

· Concealing foods you want them to eat inside unhealthy foods.

© Sacred Appetite /Anna Migeon / 4 September 2009 / All rights reserved

Related post:

“Relating to and through food