Power struggles: meal time is not a battleground

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Power struggles: meal time is not a battleground

“Clean your plate! No dessert until you eat your vegetables! If you behave you can have a piece of candy.”

Do these phrases sound familiar? Before you say them again, stop and think about the negative effect such words may have on the child’s eating, turning meals and feeding into a battle which nobody wins.

Parents and caregivers pressure children about eating with good intentions. They want the best for the child – so he or she can grow strong and healthy. Research has shown that when adults pressure children about eating, they don’t eat well or grow as well.

Forcing or pressuring a child to eat can take on many different forms. Forcing is counterproductive because it takes away the option of not eating. An infant should not be forced to nurse faster or more slowly than their natural tempo. Forcing can be stopping a child from eating with their fingers or offering a bribe or praise for eating certain foods.

Children use the meal time for showing their independence. Sometimes food isn’t the issue at all. Eating is just one more way children learn about the world. They use battles about food to test their independence.

Most children are picky about what they eat at some point in their early years. The issue may be a dislike of the food or an issue of control. When a child refuses to eat something we’ve prepared, we may feel personally rejected.

It’s important to offer the child some choices regarding food selection when practical. Don’t become a short order cook. Instead, try asking the child, “Would you like peas or carrots with lunch today?” or “would you like your milk in the blue cup or the red cup?”

When a child senses that a parent or caregiver is concerned about his or her eating, the child may use food to manipulate them. It’s a sure fire way to get attention. The less of an issue you make about food the less of an issue it becomes. All you need to do is provide a variety of healthy and nutritious foods and leave the rest up to the child.

Don’t worry about one day’s nutrition. It is not a problem if a child nibbles only a few grains of rice at one meal or eats nothing but bananas for an entire day. Studies have found that when children are offered a balanced diet over the long term they will usually eat everything they need for good health.

Source: Managing Mealtime Madness , Provider’s Choice, Inc.

Updated August 22, 2017 7:10pm