Parenting Note #613: Hunger Games

parenting note #613

No matter how hard I push, persist, and plead, the 9-year-old isn’t a breakfast person.

Sure, the kid will eat crap cereals like Lucky Charms, but he won’t ask for them. He’ll eat a little after I’ve pushed it in his face twenty times.

(internal dialogue)

“He has to eat SOMETHING. Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day. If he doesn’t eat now, he won’t be able to eat until lunch. He won’t be able to concentrate in school. He’ll fail all his tests and starve to death, and it will be all my fault! I’m the worst father ever!!”

So I hand him a bowl of sugar-coated corn syrup nuggets. I purchase this cereal because it’s the only thing he’ll eat in the morning without a fight.

A fight that can be avoided if I just waited until he said: “Dad, I’m hungry.”

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Now he’s eating, and internally I’m handing out a pat on the back like, “Oh good. He’s putting something in his stomach. I have rescued him from the clutches of starvation while guiding him towards a path of academic excellence.”

With sugar balls. Yeah, sure.

Suggestions from the Mayo Clinic explain I’m doing it all wrong:

“If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This might only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. In addition, your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues.”

My pediatrician once told my mother that I would “eat when I’m hungry.” She was concerned with my eating habits.

She’s Italian. Italians feed people. Many of them carry emergency meatballs in their pockets and buy cars based on the number of baked ziti trays that can fit in the trunk.

My mother didn’t know any better. She modeled her eating rules after her mother, a woman raised during the Great Depression, a time when a person had to eat everything on their plate because it was never a sure thing that another meal would come.

I’m listening to the experts and my gut in this case (but not the part of the stomach suddenly hankering for ziti.)

I should respect my child’s appetite — or lack of one.

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