Tara Parker Pope of the Wall Street Journal fell into the trap. The title of her November 21, 2006 Health Journal piece promises “A Recipe For Coaxing Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables.” Her column covers some basic feeding practices for parents but it was the coaxing that caught my attention.
The trap is this: The harder you work to get your child to eat, the less they tend to eat. And the less they eat the harder you push.
Most parents coax and most toddlers pick. Our impulse to coax is complicated but it’s driven by fear and supported by misunderstanding. We’re all afraid of what might happen if a meal is missed. Most of us don’t understand that toddlers and young children eat on their own terms in response to their own metabolism. So despite what we may believe or understand, children do best when left to their own devices.
The suggestion that children should be left alone while eating is the great paradox of the picky eater. Feeding therapist Ellyn Satter devised the Division of Responsibility which suggests that parents are responsible only for providing food and children are responsible for eating it. And the two should never cross. This is perhaps the single most powerful tip ever conceived for successful, healthy feeding.
Despite a title that suggests subtle coercion as a feeding policy, Tara Parker Pope redeems herself by encouraging readers not to bribe or threaten punishment. So it seems the real recipe is not to coax. But a title like that just wouldn't be as compelling.