Saturday, September 25, 2010

Excuse Me?

I had a very interesting conversation recently. A friend of mine, Alexia, who is from Jamaica, was pointing out that American kids are given too many choices, and as an example, she spoke about how odd it is that the little girl she babysits for is allowed to "not like" food. 

She said that back in the Islands where she grew up, nobody even realized that it was possible to "not like" food. The kids just ate whatever they were given, and it never occurred to anyone to refuse. 

I hadn't really thought about it before, but after turning it over in my head for a day or two, I began to realize just how bizarre and harmful this choice is for children. 

I myself have been guilty of letting my son say that he doesn't like whatever I have cooked for dinner. It usually turns into a situation where I find myself making him eat a certain number of bites of whatever the offending food is before he is allowed to leave the table. 

Can you imagine a six year old child in a jungle village telling his mother that he "doesn't like" the food that the family is eating for dinner? Now imagine his mother smiling sweetly and promising that if he finishes two more bites of whatever it is, she will make him something more to his liking. It is ridiculous. 

Parents here lament how much control their kids have over everything. Every night, millions of separate meals are cooked all over the country for children too picky and too indulged to eat whatever mom and dad are eating. 

Among the wealthier circles, nannies and babysitters dutifully make mac and cheese with fish sticks for the pampered children of parents who honestly believe that it is best not to be too hard on the tots they occasionally spend their weekends with.

But does growing up with so much control hurt or help our kids?

From my first-hand observations, it is destructive to children to have so much power. 

Think of how much easier and how much less stressful life is for a kid who doesn't have the chance or experience to throw tantrums about dinner. 

I think that most parents in our culture honestly don't know or understand that it is all in their hands. 

I have been guilty myself. I have allowed my son to "not like" the food he is given. 

But no more. I have changed the rules around here. Starting a few days ago, after my conversation with Alexia, I explained to my son that he is not allowed to say that he doesn't like the food. It is not allowed to even enter his mind as a possibility. I am not a personal chef, and he does not know what his body needs to be healthy. 

So now he eats whatever is on his plate. No questions, no whining, no "four more bites, then you can be done." Just eat it. I am not wasting any more of my life on this nonsense. There cannot be anything fundamentally different about my son--or any of the children in this country--that makes him somehow too delicate to eat whatever his father and I are eating. 

I never threatened any punishment. I feel like even saying "if you don't...." puts it out there that it is possible to refuse. He has just been told that his attitude is changing. Now. 

So for dinner tonight he had chicken, whole wheat couscous, and collard greens. Two weeks ago, there would have been crying, but tonight the only sound was the munching of our family dinner. 

I wish I had thought of this years ago.


  1. love love love this! just today a friend was telling me that her boyfriend didn't start eating veggies till they met. for his entire childhood he refused to eat them so matter what his mother said. bizarre!

  2. what a terrible disservice to a child!