Forcing kids to eat has longterm effects, especially forcing kids to eat food they don’t like. Saying “just one more bite” seems harmless, but actually does more damage to a child than you realize. Should you ever force a child to eat? The short answer is no and here is why forcing kids to eat is dangerous.
FORCING KIDS TO EAT JUST DOESN’T WORK & DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD
Every parent, at one point or maybe at every meal, will worry their children aren’t eating enough or consuming enough leafy greens.
When you see your child pushing food around on their plate, complaining they don’t want to eat or asking to be excused before eating anything, we might be inclined to use one an innocent-enough, phrase like “just a couple more bites” or…
- “Finish Your Plate”
- “Three More Bites”
- “Eat All of Your Dinner”
- “You Have to Eat All Your Dinner Before You Can Get Down From the Table”
- “If You Don’t Eat Dinner, You Can’t Have Dessert”
- “Four Bites of Peas and Two of Chicken and Then You can Be Excused”
However common these phrases are in your home, they don’t actually make your children eat, do they? At least not without a power struggle.
I know in my house, it never does.
Forcing kids to eat just doesn’t work, but it certainly does invite tantrums and other challenging behavior.
In fact, telling a child to eat food they don’t like or aren’t hungry for, hurts them and here’s why.
What’s so Bad About Making a Child Eat Their Dinner?
Whether we like it or not, children eat when they’re hungry and eat until they’re full even if it’s only after several bites at the dinner table and a portion size parents believe is unwilling.
Children have a easy way to tell when they’re full or aren’t hungry, something most adults had at one time too. Children have a internal sensor which regulates their body and sends a signal to their brain to alerts them when they’re hungry, thirsty and full. We were all born with this regulator, but most likely it doesn’t work as well as it once used to.
Why not? Because eating past the point of being full and being forced to eat when when we weren’t interested in food as a child has changed the way our internal sensor works.
I Get So Mad When My Kid Doesn’t Eat Their Food
A range of emotions trigger parents during meal times, and while the central part of these emotions is worry they’ll be hungry, it stems from the love we have for them.
It’s easy to feel worried when your child isn’t eating well or concerned they’ll go to bed hungry. You may feel frustrated you spent a lot of time pulling together a meal you anticipated your child would enjoy only to find they didn’t. When your kids push their food around instead of devouring it, it’s not anger, or frustration at the heart of the matter – it’s love.
Parents, it’s time to stop worrying about if your child cleans their plate or not. Measuring how much they ate isn’t a fair assessment and is not beneficial to them in the long run.
The truth is, forcing kids to eat is actually be doing more harm than good.
Children, more than adolescents and especially adults, follow natural body cues and eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. If you force them to eat more, you’re changing these natural receptors in their brains to overeat.
The feeling of being sick to your stomach or needing to unbutton the top button… those aren’t good things. You know those feelings right? After eating too much, indigestion and fullness set in and those two feelings aren’t pleasant sensations.
Stop Forcing Kids to Eat
When you tell your children what to eat and how much to eat, even if they’ve told you they aren’t hungry or are already full, their internal cues about hunger become confused.
The new normal becomes overeating when too many times, they’ve been asked to eat more than they wanted.
When kids are taught to ignore their inner voice, they start overeating which can lead to weight concerns, even obesity, all of which can affect self-esteem and having a positive self-image.
Stop Offering So Many Snacks
Snacks can be part of your child’s day, just not a food they should munch on all day long. Constant grazing can offset natural cues and mindless eating is a bad habit.
Offer healthy and filling snacks such as fruit, cheese, peanut butter and crackers, vegetables and hummus or dip. Healthy snacks should be enjoyed mid-morning and the afternoon, or 2-3 hours between meals. Spacing out healthy snacking helps kids load up at meal times.
If you offer unhealthy choices like chips, drinks, and packaged foods, those snacks won’t satisfy your child’s hunger and they’ll be asking for a second snack shortly after, instead of making it to the next meal like lunch or dinner.
Food Isn’t a Reward & Shouldn’t Be Used as a Bribe
When you offer rewards for eating food – such as the vegetables or chicken they’re putting up a stink about – children will begin to associate those foods in a negative way since you’re trying to bribe them to eat.
For example, “Eat three bites of green beans and you can have a popsicle for dessert.” This type of bribery will make your child have a bad taste for green beans.
You A Not a Short Order Cook
Make one meal for everyone in your family to eat. That’s it.
Don’t make special meals that cater to your children’s particular food choices, but do make the effort to include one thing that they do like and you know they’ll eat. This way, you make sure they have food they’ll enjoy and will fill them, with other options for them to choose from if they’re still hungry.
Set Firm Limits When it Comes to Food
Let your children know when they get down from the table at mealtimes, their meal is done and they cannot have more.
Ask and then state,
- “Did you get enough food? When you get down, we’re done with dinner and there is no more food.”
- “Is your stomach full or still hungry? Dinner is done if you leave the table but if you’re still hungry, eat until you’re ready to be done.”
Let them think about what you’ve just said and allow them to make the decision about how full their stomach is and if they are in fact done with their meal, or not.
A parent’s responsibility is to make and offer healthy, nutritious choices for your children, but it’s not your responsibility to decide how much they eat at every meal.
Only your child can tell you – if you let them listen to their own body – if they are hungry and when they are full. Trust your child to know themselves and relax knowing that as long as you offer them nutritious food, they will meet the needs of their own body.