Should we Allow our Children to be Hungry?
03 May 2012
Last night, minutes after I put my three year old son to bed, he starting yelling, "I want to eat my dinner." When I told him no, that it was bedtime and too late to eat dinner, he yelled louder, he cried, he screamed.
This has happened before.
He doesn't always finish (or even start) his dinner at dinner time. Sometimes I ignore the fact that he hasn't eaten, sometimes I pull out all my tricks, but usually, we just leave his dinner there and sometimes he returns to it and sometimes he doesn't. Last night, he didn't... until it was time for bed.
Perhaps, in the quiet of his room, he finally decided he was hungry. Perhaps, he just didn't want to go to bed yet.
I told him that it was time for bed and it was too late to eat dinner.
He yelled louder, "I want to eat my dinner."
I decided to stand my ground.
He was quiet, for a while.
Then, he tried again. "I really want to eat my dinner."
As a mom, something stirred inside me. "He only ate a few bites of dinner," I thought. "What if he's really hungry."
This has happened before. And when it did, I gave in.
I was worried that he was hungry.
If he was really hungry, I had to let him eat right?
This happened before, and now he knows.
He knows that if he keeps yelling, keeps crying, I'll give in.
So, this time. I didn't give in.
With my older two children, it was much easier to stand my ground. But he is very strong willed. I worried he would never stop.
As parents, one of our most important jobs is to feed our children. It is essential for their survival. Within minutes of their births and then every few hours afterwards, they look to us for nourishment.
We feed them. We buy the food, we cook the food, we teach them how to eat. Their growth, their development, even their ability to learn depends upon being fed.
When our children don't eat, it stirs something in us...
I think that our instincts as parents that are meant to ensure our children's survival, may be the same that cause those eating behaviors that we unwittingly encourage.
As parents, we face decisions every day. We want to do what is best for our children, but sometimes what's best is not that clear.
As parents, we are afraid of our children being hungry.
Because of that fear, we let them eat whatever they want so that at least they will eat something.
Because of that fear, we give them something else to eat, even though we told them that tonight's dinner was the only option.
Because of that fear, we let them get out of bed at 8:00 at night to eat dinner, even though we already told them that it's too late.
What would happen if we let go of that fear?
Last night, my son eventually stopped yelling.
When he woke up, he wasn't starving.
He wasn't mad at me.
He didn't even ask for breakfast right away.
Tonight he ate almost all of his dinner.
Tonight he didn't yell.