Becoming parents is a milestone, there is the life before and the life you live after the birth of your children. From the time our baby is born, we pour out our expectations and our wishes with all our might. It turns out that we always want our little ones to sleep when we want, eat as we want, what we want, and the amount we want. We also want them to behave as we want and what we perceive to be the right way to behave.

However, as I have shared in previous articles, the child has their own will, and it is because of the perception we have cultivated that, many times, we dare to judge their attitude and tantrums. When, in fact, they are only expressing their will, which, in turn, proves to be different from ours.

In matters related to food especially, when parents and caregivers do not have the necessary and technical knowledge of the subject, it can be quite frustrating to deal with little ones that we mistakenly label “picky” or “poor eater”. Since, in our mind and life experience,  we think they are eating little or almost nothing for what we learned to be necessary to grow up healthy.

Parents are so concerned about this that it is one of the reasons for recurring visits to the pediatrician. But the response to forced feeding is not pathological, but psychological and cultural, related to the great expectations we place on our little ones. Wanting the child to eat as we expect should not be seen as a healthy practice to adopt.

Understand what’s important

It does not matter if your child eats everything; the most important thing is that they want to eat and that they eat in a healthy and balanced way. And, you will not succeed in that with coercion or pressuring your child, or with blackmail, punishment, and screaming. The child knows the necessary amount of food that will satisfy their hunger – it is not us, neither the doctors nor the nutritionists. Only the child knows.

In addition, we should be much more concerned with childhood obesity and the consumption of industrialized products than with the cases of children who do not eat much. We know that in the case of parents who try to force their child to eat, it is the other way around, however. Pressing children to eat something they do not want, can, in fact, develop an aversion to food since it reminds them of being pressured and forced to eat.

The child knows about their needs

Many scientists claim that the child knows how to recognize what they need through their experimental system that has been evolving for millions of years. In addition, many professionals claim that when a child is forced to eat, it can lead to an aversion to food. Or even the reverse, when an adult ends up being overweight for not having a balanced relationship with food. It could be the result of having to always clean the plate, eat everything, even without feeling like it; then, in adulthood, they find it difficult to stop eating, even when satiated. Therefore, forcing ends up getting in the way, making the child’s relationship with food in the future to be troubled, rather than healthy. And this is not an empathetic attitude either, and it undermines secure attachment.

Understand veiled pressures

Understand that bribery, too, is a way of forcing your little one to eat. In fact, this is one of the ways, Júlio Basulto, dietitian, nutritionist, and author of a Pediatrician Nutrition course, talks about, that there are 8 actions that are more practiced when parents want to force their children to eat: threats, emotional blackmail, hostility and use of authority, humiliation, lying, pressure and/or coercion, uses the child’s fear, violence and/or psychological abuse.

To say things like: “If you don’t eat, I’ll call the bogeyman” or “you won’t get off the table until you eat everything”, or even saying “if you don’t want to eat, mommy will be sad”, too, is a form of emotional blackmail. Even the overpraising of those who eat everything and those who do not, affecting the child’s self-esteem.

We are evolving

Younger mothers are much more informed than in the past. Today, we have many studies, which helps and guides us in raising better human beings. Food is a constant concern for parents during the first three years of their children. Parents are concerned not only with the amount but with what to give their child and when to give it. And because of the excess of information, we have today and all the changes that occurred in the way of raising children from one generation to another, many parents are left confused and not knowing what to actually do.

The ideal is to have professional guidance, not only from a pediatrician but from a nutritionist who specializes in child nutrition. From the beginning, when you first introduce food, let the child explore the food, smelling, touching, getting to know its texture. Offer them plenty of healthy food options. And even if they don’t want to eat food today, offer it again tomorrow and offer it the other days in other ways as well. We, adults, also have days that we don’t feel like eating much and other days that we do.