“You must eat at least a few bites of breakfast. Otherwise, we’re not going shopping.”

This was so not my finest parenting moment. Ever find yourself similarly threatening your child?

Here are the facts:

  • My daughter woke up cranky.
  • I knew that part of the reason she was cranky was because she was hungry.
  • Before I pulled out the big guns (No Shopping!), I had tried a reasonable, “Let’s go get some breakfast.”
  • I also had tried, “You know, sometimes when you feel cranky it’s because you’re hungry.”
  • Nothing had worked and now I was looking at a morning (maybe even an entire day) of dealing with my darling daughter.
  • I couldn’t realistically cancel the shopping trip because we were traveling, and if I did, we’d be stuck staring at each other in our hotel room. (OK, I could have canceled the trip, but what would I have done: replaced it with a trip to a museum?)

You’re with me, right? I had to do what I did!

Pressure doesn’t work.

So there we were at the cafe where we had eaten breakfast every day during our trip. I’d bought my daughter a glass of milk—That’s a good compromise, right?— and myself a bowl of oatmeal. I was eating. She was crying. Through her tears she said:

I thought you aren’t supposed to make kids eat when they aren’t hungry. 

I was busted. (Be glad you didn’t just write a book on this topic.)

The natural physiologiclal response to being upset is to lose your appetite.

Here are the facts:

  • My daughter wasn’t in touch with her feelings of hunger because she was cranky and upset.
  • The more conflict I created, the more likely it was that my daughter wouldn’t feel hungry.
  • If I had successfully pressured my daughter into eating I would have taught her to override her internal feelings and to eat for emotional regulation.

For more on this read Using Sweets to Soothe the Soul

My daughter, rightfully, “won.”

  • I finished my meal.
  • We threw out the milk.
  • And off we went. Both of us sulking.

Eventually our moods improved. We shopped and then we ate lunch.

What should I have done instead?

  1. Corrected my daughter’s behavior. Feeling cranky doesn’t give anyone a free pass to act anyway they want. (And someday it won’t be me dealing with her cranky attitude; it might be her boss.)
  2. Suggested to my daughter that she might like to eat. Then, I should have left it alone.

In moments like this it is extremely difficult to think long term.

But you have to. Teaching kids to stay in stay in touch with their internal hunger and satiation cues and with their own emotions is a big part of teaching them the habits they need for a lifetime of healthy eating.

It’s something to think about. Maybe even something to read about!

I discuss all these ideas in It’s Not About the Broccoli.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~