Thursday, December 29, 2005

More Free Advice for Parents: Don't Make Mealtimes a Struggle

I have observed in a number of families with small children that mealtimes were particularly stressful. The children would decline to eat or would dawdle over their food while the parents cajoled, begged and threatened them. This played out meal after meal, and eating with these families was quite unpleasant.

The dinner table as battlefield was entirely unnecessary in every instance if parents would use a little common sense and would have the backbone to see the little darlings go hungry for a few hours. Nobody makes me eat anything I don't like, and I don't think children should be compelled to eat, either. I wouldn't serve anything different to the kids, but neither would I make any big deal over their leaving food on their plate. So let the kids eat what is before them or not as they see fit. The catch is that there is not going to be any more food until the next meal. No snacks, no juice boxes, no nothing. The children are apt to be hungry the next meal and are more likely to eat willingly and peacably, especially once they realize that you are indifferent to whether they eat or not.

A peacable table leaves parents free to concentrate on table manners. I know that it takes effort to teach children to use utensils and napkins and to behave in a civilized manner, but this pays off in the long run and will lead to pleasant mealtimes for the whole family. You may even be able to go out to eat or to to subject guests to your children without guilt. This is well worth exerting yourselves.

Too many parents seem convinced that their children will starve to death if deprived of food for a few hours. This is not true. They will be fine and will learn that if they don't eat at meals they will experience hunger pangs later. They will learn to take responsibility for their choices.

Of course, children who eat their meals can have snacks and such, but parents should not let themselves be manipulated in this regard. Also, it is only polite to try to serve foods that people actually like rather than trying to get kids to eat foods that are noxious to them. If Mrs Vache Folle insisted on serving cauliflower to me, I would begin to suspect that her affection for me had waned. She knows I don't like it. If I were a child, I would still be entitled to some consideration of my particular tastes.

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