Making kids eat vs. making them behave

Sep 21, 2010 by

This recent Dennis the Menace cartoon shows a breakdown in a mom’s attempts to make her kid eat.  After trying to make Dennis eat carrots, his mom thinks he has complied but then finds the carrots hidden in the laundry basket. So Dennis is in the corner.

His question is a good one. Is he punished for hiding carrots in the laundry or for not eating them? Is it fair to punish a child for reacting in a natural and normal and to-be-expected way to being over-controlled? The outcome is typical of force feeding.  You can lead a kid to carrots but you cannot make him eat.

The proper groundwork for good eating wasn’t laid, and not knowing what else to do, the weary, desperate mom forced Dennis. Dennis appeared to comply, but Dennis got his revenge. Then Mom got hers.  It’s not working very well.  Dennis isn’t learning to love carrots. Mom isn’t even getting him to eat them and she has a mess on her hands. I feel for her: Dennis is a tough little menace, and, as a perennial six-year-old, he never outgrows any of it!

I haven’t got many answers for her, but think I could help her with the eating problems.  We can’t escape all our parenting challenges, but generally  there’s just no need to endure feeding problems. It should be the least of our worries. Even little terrors get hungry. That hunger can be leveraged. Good eating can be achieved by doing nothing but cooking good food, serving regular meals and insisting, not on eating but, on  good behavior at the table.  My bet is that Dennis became a “picky eater” in direct reaction to him mom’s trying to make him eat certain things.  If he’d never been pushed to eat carrots, he’d probably be eating them instead of stuffing them in the laundry basket to prove he can’t be controlled.

Related posts:

False Dilemma of Controlling What Kids Eat

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

How to get kids to eat at the table, Part III