Archive for July, 2010

Six sample consequences for children’s disagreeable dinner table behavior that will eliminate misbehavior as well as food refusal

July 28, 2010 2 comments

1.  Don’t let them finish their dinner if they won’t cooperate and follow your rules at the table. Screaming, whining, complaining, whatever it is your children are doing that you don’t want to send them out into the cold cruel world in the habit of doing, make getting food dependent on doing things your way.  Be unemotional about it. Absence makes the stomach grow fonder. The desperation will shift from you to them.  While in the immediate, this consequence means they eat less, in the long term they will eat more. Hunger turns eating suddenly into something kids want to do.  While pushing food creates resistance, pulling it away increases desire. As Elaine Gibson writes in “Useless Power Struggles,” “We can’t make children eat, but we can make them wish they had.”

2.   Send them to their room, along with number one.

3.    Make them eat alone at another table elsewhere while the family eats together.  Casually talk and laugh loudly a lot after they leave. Shifts eating at the table from a thing they resist to something they do want to do. It’s all how you position it. Make eating at the table a valued privilege for those who have the maturity to behave pleasantly, instead of something you as the parent are desperate for them to do.

4.    Are they throwing or playing with food or poking around and being too slow, not eating when it’s time to eat? Take their plates away and end the meal, without being emotional and angry and pushy. Just say, “You must not be hungry,” casually, unemotionally. A little later, if you don’t give in to their pleading, their temporary hunger will teach them to move quickly next time. Instead of pushing them to eat, pull food away and they will come forward.

6.  Throwing fits because they’re still hungry after dinner or waking you up at night because they’re hungry? Tell them: “If you continue to throw a tantrum or get out of  bed in the night and wake us up because you didn’t eat enough dinner, you are going to be in trouble.” Hide your anger, but give them an unpleasant consequence, such as: “You will stay in your room all day the next day, or you will not be able to go to your friend’s house, or the pool or you will lose all video game privileges.” Then do it. Next time they’ll think twice.

Related Posts:

Six ways to orchestrate kids’ desire to eat what you want them to eat, Part I

Eating power struggles with kids: why they’re useless and how to end them

How to get kids to eat at the table: the Push-Pull Principle

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 28 July 2010 / All rights reserved

Eating Power Struggles with Kids: Why they’re useless and how to end them

July 22, 2010 25 comments

Eliminating bad behavior at the table will eliminate a lot of poor eating.

Marlena’s children weren’t good eaters; instead, they were screamers.

Marlena tried to control their eating. It didn’t work very well. At all. Instead, they controlled her and got their own way by screaming and refusing to eat.

Four-year-old Walker was surviving mainly on bean-and-cheese tacos. If he didn’t like what was for dinner (which was most of the time), he’d go to bed hungry and wake up in the night screaming for food. So his mom had started feeding him right before bed, a “second dinner,” of whatever food he wanted, to get him to stay asleep so they all could sleep.

When two-year-old Jennifer didn’t get her way, she screamed. Her parents would scramble to make her happy to end the screaming.

Marlena’s action plan was to micromanage, bribe, beg, threaten, punish, distract, and join the screaming herself, to get them to eat what she wanted them to eat, bite by bite. One night she let Walker play video games while she spooned chicken and rice into his mouth. If Jennifer wanted more tomatoes, her mother would tell her she had to eat a bite of fish first, then rice.



Desperate for change, Marlena invited me to play Super Dinner Nanny at her house.

The first surprise that night was that the kids’ screaming went unremarked upon, unchallenged. No one expressed the least objection to it. Marlena’s husband sometimes wore earplugs to the dinner table, she had told me earlier.

Marlena’s first mistake, as with so many parents, was in trying to make her kids eat. Eating is a personal bodily function, regulated and prompted from within, from birth. That mistake was compounded, as it generally is, by a misguided lack of control over children’s antisocial behavior, particularly at the table. Kids use food refusal to get to misbehave and lord over their parents. Parents let them misbehave out of desperation to get them to eat.

Unlike with eating, kids are born unequipped to do otherwise than behave rudely and annoyingly. Good behavior is unnatural and requires far more intervention than eating. Children are completely dependent on parents to train them to behave.

When you try to control a child’s eating, what is truly only up to him to control, things will go wrong. When you don’t try to control this behavior, things also go wrong.

We can try to force children to eat, and they might appear to go along with it at times, but their rebellion will come out somehow, sometimes in ways that are harmful to themselves.

I can’t say I blame them for rebelling. How would you like it if someone made you eat something you didn’t want?

Kids are going to eat, you only have to know how to channel their hunger. It’s one of the few things, which include sleeping and defecating, you don’t have to make them do. There’s a whole load of other things connected to those things you have to make them do, but not those things.

So I told Marlena to do the opposite of what she was doing.

  1. Quit controlling, or trying to control, what her kids put in their mouths. Their own eating needs to be entirely up to them. Provide only foods you are happy about them eating. Let them serve themselves, decide how much they want, and what they want. No pressure of any kind to eat anything, ever.
  2. Start controlling their behavior. That is your job. Do not allow screaming, ever. Screaming for what they want is a bad habit and we do them no favors in allowing it. No one will accept it from them and neither should their parents.
  3. Restrict negative eating, rather than pushing positive eating. Keep them from eating junk or whatever it is you don’t want them to eat. Keep them from eating dinner in front of the TV. Don’t make something different for them if they don’t like what’s served. Don’t let them eat at the table, or maybe eat at all, unless they follow your requirements and use age-appropriate manners, including no whining and complaining. This is the hard part. Kids who are used to getting their way may scream, get angry and even violent, at this point. But once they know you mean business, and feel the pain of hunger, they shape up.

“Temporary hunger will not hurt children, but it will teach them to take what is offered when it is offered,” writes Elaine M. Gibson in “Useless Power Struggles” on Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel. “We can’t make children eat, but we can make them wish they had.”

Marlena realized that if she wasn’t going to allow her children to scream at her, she would have to curtail her own screaming at them. Not a bad idea in itself.

Marlena’s path to change at the dinner table has not been a direct one, with a lot of coaching, along with false starts and reverses. When she was on the path, it worked.

She reported that her children loved filling their own plates and being left alone about what and how much they ate. The first time she tried it, Walker tested his limits with abominable behavior. He was sent to bed and cried himself to sleep.  She felt terrible about it.

But later, things improved.

“No screaming – just happy quiet eating,” she wrote me. ” Walker even served himself a tomato!!!!!  And ate it!!!!  We almost passed out!”

Related Posts:

Six sample consequences for children’s disagreeable dinner table behavior that will eliminate misbehavior as well as food refusal

Six ways to orchestrate kids’ desire to eat what you want them to eat, Part I

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 22 July 2010 / All rights reserved

A Simple Plan: Getting Kids to the Table and Away from the TV

July 14, 2010 3 comments

EMILY HAD NO OBJECTION TO THE PLAN her grandparents cooked up to get her to eat meals at the table. — photo by Anna Migeon

Today I met Sharon, who told me how she got her grand-daughter to quit eating in front of the TV and start eating dinner and having pleasant conversation with them instead.

Sharon’s daughter, Emily, a single mom of five-year-old Katie, lives next door to her. Katie had gotten in the habit of eating dinner at a table by herself in front of the TV.

“She doesn’t know what she’s eating, or how much,” Sharon told her daughter.

So the grandparents got involved. They made dinner, set the table, and invited Emily and Katie to have dinner with them every night for a while.

They told Katie that they were going to have dinner together and share stories about their day.

Katie had no resistance to the new plan.

In fact, after a little while, Katie would come bursting in before the meal started to tell her story, and they would tell her, “Wait, we are setting the table and when we sit down we will tell our stories.”

Sharon told me that she thinks Katie might be just as distracted by the stories from what she’s eating as she was by TV, but she thought it was an improvement over TV.

I’d say it’s a vast improvement over eating alone in front of the TV. Instead of being seduced by junk food advertisements and being anesthetized by other mindless or objectionable content, Katie is getting to know her grandparents and mother.  She is absorbing their values, experience and wisdom and is learning how to live in relationship with others. She’s getting positive attention from caring adults and learning to carry on a conversation.

Their success probably lies in not making the change an aggressive confrontation or making it about depriving her of watching TV or making her do something. They didn’t sweep in like reformers to tell her that things had to change. Nor did they assume she wouldn’t want to do what they wanted her to do, or offer her incentives to go along with the program. They were calm, confident, and matter-of-fact. They simply replaced what they wanted to eliminate with something better.

Related Post:

Feeding Kids: How Cleaning Up Your Act Can Make Things Even Worse

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Aug. 6, 2010.