Picky Kids and Hillary Clinton's 'Strategic Patience' at the Dinner Table

May 27, 2010 by

Pulling away works better . . .

Are your children provoking you at the table? Are they uncooperative? Misbehaving and refusing to eat their veggies? Are tensions increasing daily? Have negotiations broken down?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in dealing with a similarly belligerent North Korea, is adopting a policy of “strategic patience” that sounds like a good example of masterly inactivity, an effective strategy for parents of picky eaters.

I can’t say if it will work with Korea, but I highly recommend this wisely passive and purposeful letting alone in the dinner table battle zone. When all seems hopeless, it’s probably time to put stalled negotiations on hold and invest less in diplomacy, not more, to be more effective.

. . . than . . .

Clinton gives us some pointers on enacting the “strategic patience” policy.  Korean has to make the first move, she says, and won’t be granted any concessions.

Likewise, a kid who won’t eat needs space to exercise his personal initiative. He’s got all the reasons in the world to eat, all on his own, without pressure from us: he’s hungry. But if he’s going to eat, it needs to be his idea and no one else’s. Back off and let his hunger lead him forward. Resist the urge to push. All your wanting leads to nothing but resistance, as you may have observed. Quit reacting to his provocations.

Don’t let him set the agenda or the menu or the atmosphere at the table. That’s your role. Simply serve food and insist on nothing but proper table behavior. Bring in the sanctions on bad behavior and hold firm. Cut off fruitless discussions. Declare a moratorium on negotiations on food itself. Be pleasant, talk about other things and enjoy your own dinner.

At the same time, don’t give in. You need steely resolve. Don’t bring out the chicken nuggets and pizza if he won’t eat the real food. Allow him to be hungry. Allow him to want to eat.  And he will want to. It has to come down to that.

. . . pushing. - photos of Aniella and Luciano by Anna Migeon

He will test you and your resolve. But don’t let him jerk you around. If the behavior comes under control and pressure is off the eating itself, chances are food negotiations need never come back to the table.

Related posts:

How to get kids to the dinner table: Get an attitude

Getting kids to the dinner table: What is the parents’ job?

How to get kids to eat at the table: The push and pull principle

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on June 4, 2010, and on the Charlotte Mason blog carnival on June 8, 2010.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 26 May 2010 / All rights reserved

Laura Weldon
Laura Weldon

You're totally right----"Be pleasant, talk about other things and enjoy your own dinner." I've always headed more toward the distraction method than food dictatorship. Maybe Hillary could dangle the prospect of celebrity meet-ups or designer shoes at North Korea's stranger-than-fiction leader. At our dinner table the focus tends to be more on conversation than food. When the kids were tiny, eager conversation seemed to keep them from noticing that specks of vegetables riddled their tomato sauce. Now that they're older the conversations can swirl right past me. But now the conversations are sometimes about organic gardening and gourmet cooking!

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

I am watching it now. This show is hilarious, in an unintentional way, I think. It's really depressing if I don't laugh at it. Is it the inspiration for the whole emo thing or what? I can see why they cancelled it after a season (I read up on it on Wikipedia), though I could get into it. I'd heard of it but didn't realize it was such an old show, from the mid-90s. Clare Danes looks about 12 in it. I looked at your blog but did not pick up you were in the UK (is it England?). I'm glad CM is being rediscovered/revived in her homeland!


Of course! I can't use Hulu as I'm in the UK, but it's definitely in the pilot episode, just a few mins in. Really pleased you liked it :)

Anna Migeon
Anna Migeon

ha ha! I love that example! It really hits the nail on the head. Perfect! Do you mind if I use it? Maybe I can find that episode on Hulu. I'm putting together a seminar and that sounds like a perfect clip for my presentation! Parents often need to be much more nonchalant about their kids' eating. That story is like one from the cartoon Zits: Jeremy is sitting with his best friend telling him how he wants to join the Peace Corps or something and give back and help others and all this good stuff. Then the mom goes by and starts excitedly listening in and he switches to talking coarsely about playing video games or some such thing. So the mom rolls her eyes and continues on by, and Jeremy says something along the lines of what Angela said. I also very much know that feeling. I'm afraid I haven't yet outgrown feeling that way myself sometimes, actually. Thanks so much for your comment! It made my day!


There used to be a TV series, "My So Called Life", about a teenage girl called Angela. In the first episode (I think) she said that she couldn't bring herself to eat her healthy dinner because it would mean too much to her mother! At the time I knew exactly what Angela meant. I'm really enjoying your blog, and I hope that I'll be able to avoid these types of battles with my own children :) I'm a fan of Charlotte Mason too, and I love how you've applied 'masterly inactivity' to food.


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