Don’t force a child to eat when he doesn’t want to

The Covington News - - Religion -

Ques­tion: Should a par­ent try to force a child to eat?

Dob­son: No. In fact, the din­ner ta­ble is one po­ten­tial bat­tle­field where a par­ent can eas­ily get am­bushed. You can’t win there. A strong­willed child is like a good mil­i­tary gen­eral who con­stantly seeks an ad­van­ta­geous place to take on the en­emy. He need look no farther. Of all the com­mon points of con­flict be­tween gen­er­a­tions ... bed­time, hair, clothes, school­work, etc., the ad­van­tages at the ta­ble are all in the child’s fa­vor. Three times a day, a very tiny child can sim­ply refuse to open his mouth. No amount of co­erc­ing can make him eat what he doesn’t want to eat.

I re­mem­ber one three-year- old who was de­ter­mined not to eat his green peas, de­spite the in­sis­tence of his fa­ther that the squishy lit­tle veg­eta­bles were go­ing down. It was a clas­sic con­fronta­tion be­tween the ir­re­sistible force and an im­mov­able ob­ject. Nei­ther would yield. Af­ter an hour of ha­rangu­ing, threat­en­ing, ca­jol­ing and sweat­ing, the fa­ther had not achieved his goal. The tear­ful tod­dler sat with a fork-load of peas pointed omi­nously at his sealed lips.

Fi­nally, through sheer in­tim­i­da­tion, the dad man­aged to get one bite of peas in place. But the lad wouldn’t swal­low them. I don’t know ev­ery­thing that went on af­ter­ward, but the mother told me they had no choice but to put the child to bed with the peas still in his mouth. They were amazed at the strength of his will.

The next morn­ing, the mother found a lit­tle pile of mushy peas where they had been ex­pelled at the foot of the bed. Score one for Ju­nior, none for Dad. Tell me in what other arena a 30-pound child could whip a grown man?

Not ev­ery tod­dler is this tough, of course. But many of them will gladly do bat­tle over food. It is their ideal power game. Talk to any ex­pe­ri­enced par­ent or grand­par­ent and they will tell you this is true. The sad thing is that th­ese con­flicts are un­nec­es­sary. Chil­dren will eat as much as they need if you keep them from in­dulging in the wrong stuff. They will not starve. I prom­ise.

The way to deal with a poor eater is to set good food be­fore him. If he claims to not be hun­gry, wrap the plate, put it in the re­frig­er­a­tor and send him cheer­fully on his way. He’ll be back in a few hours. There is a lit­tle mech­a­nism in his tummy that says “gimme food!” sev­eral times a day. When this oc­curs, do not put sweets, snacks or con­fec­tionery food in front of him. Sim­ply re­trieve the ear­lier meal, warm it up and serve it again. If he protests, send him out to play again. Even if 12 hours or more goes by, con­tinue this pro­ce­dure un­til food — all food — be­gins to look and smell won­der­ful. From that time for­ward, the bat­tle over the din­ner ta­ble should be his­tory.

Ques­tion: Since al­most ev­ery cou­ple fights from time to time, what dis­tin­guishes a healthy mar­riage from one that is in se­ri­ous trou­ble? How can a hus­band and wife know when their con­flicts are within nor­mal lim­its and when they are symp­toms of more se­ri­ous prob­lems?

Dob­son:

It is true that con­flict oc­curs in vir­tu­ally all mar­riages.

That is how re­sent­ment and frus­tra­tion are ven­ti­lated. The dif­fer­ence be­tween stable fam­i­lies and those in se­ri­ous trou­ble is ev­i­denced by what hap­pens af­ter a fight. In healthy re­la­tion­ships, a pe­riod of con­fronta­tion ends in for­give­ness — in draw­ing to­gether — in deeper re­spect and un­der­stand­ing — and some­times in sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion. But in un­sta­ble mar­riages a pe­riod of con­flict pro­duces greater pain and anger that per­sists un­til the next fight. When that oc­curs, one un­re­solved is­sue is com­pounded by an­other and an­other. That ac­cu­mu­la­tion of re­sent­ment is an omi­nous cir­cum­stance in any mar­riage.

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