My mother had this problem with me, I would eat but not at the correct time. She consulted our family doctor, an old school medical man.

"He won't eat" she complained

"He seems quite big considering he doesn't eat at all"

"Well, he eats, but not like he should"

"Oh, so he doesn't eat when you expect him to"

"No, sometimes he'll eat a lot, sometimes hardly any."

"A common problem"

"What should I do?"

"I'd highly recommend feeding him when he gets hungry"

Force feeding is the act of open another's mouth, placing food inside, and getting them to swallow when they clearly do not wish to do so. With children it is rarely needed - a child with a normal, healthy body will learn what it feels like to be hungry, associate that with eating, and take nourishment as their body requires.

In the USA there are three culturally acceptable reasons to force a child to eat when they are not hungry: 1) The kid wants to do something else (or is distracted by something else) and the parent knows they haven't had enough to eat. In this case the child may be hungry, but does not want to admit it because they are involved mentally or physically with something else. In such circumstances the child will complain later on that they are hungry. Our culture does not accept or accomodate frequent micro-meals so it is better for the child to learn that in our society people eat three main meals a day, and that skipping or eating too lightly at one is going to result in hunger which cannot be satisfied later when it occurs.

2) For nutritional and physical purposes. When one has a child and they understand/know the child they will be able to determine whether said child is eating enough of the right foods, and whether the child will be hungry later. This can be due to the child's inability to sense or understand their own hunger.

3) For punishment and/or teaching of cultural values. Many parents don't want their children to take more than they will eat and punish their children for taking more by forcing them to eat more of what's on their plate. This may be a result, however, of the parents preparing too much food. Americans, on average, prepare and present more food than we need to consume. A child who is trying to be like daddy or mommy may help themsleves to as big a serving as they see on their parents plate. The parents then force the child to eat what they've taken, perhaps to teach them to take less. It would be better in this case to prepare less food (or only put on the table what is likely to be eaten) and for the parents themselves to take smaller portions, simply eating more servings rather than filling their plate once. The cultural value of leaving a 'clean plate' is fairly strong in some households, and it can be quite a insult to the preparer of the food if food is left on the plate uneaten.

There are other reasons children are force fed, but the three above outline the most culturally acceptable in the USA. Eating is such a complex human behavior that it would be difficult to pick out force feeding as a significant or primary cause of later eating problems, but they are related since one learns lifelong eating habits as a child.
Wow, I thought it was just my mother, but apparently there is a worldwide cycle of this acceptable child abuse...

I was always being made to eat when I wasn't hungry - one morning, I complained that I felt sick, and didn't want to go to school. My mother didn't believe me, and sat me down to eat my Cornflakes. I finished the bowl, and then puked all the Cornflakes back into it, quite neatly.

"See," I said, "I told you I was sick."

"Ah well, you've thrown up so you've got it out of your system. You always feel better after throwing up."

And the cow made me go to school. She also made me eat Brussels sprouts even though I couldn't stand them - still can't. When I grew up, I went round one time for Christmas dinner, and she'd made sprouts. I told her not to give me any, as I didn't like them - but she did anyway, and got annoyed when I didn't touch them. I was 26. Why, I asked, why did you give me the sprouts, even though I don't like them, and now that I'm an adult I'm past saying that just to be awkward? "Cause it's Christmas. We have sprouts at Christmas." Oh, okay. So at Christmas we eat things we don't like, just as long as I understand...


Update: I love parsnips. She cooked me parsnips once when I was a kid, and I yummed them up big style. We didn't have them again, and when I asked for them she said "Oh, no, I don't like parsnips." Fuck! So I have to eat food I don't like, but she doesn't? Sprouts and parsnips are both good for you! That's when I discovered that maybe, just maybe, my mother wasn't always right all the time. I didn't tell her though, I was too scared. She was bigger than me. I'm bigger now though, so I told her last year - she denied the incident ever took place. Ah, parents and their selective memories...

Like everyone else in this near GTKY-node, I was taught that wasting food was a bad thing. At school, I felt bad for throwing away what my mom had so carefully prepared for me, so I ate it, regardless of hunger. My traditional Bavarian grandmother literally stuffed me from an early age, causing me to be obese as a child. This caused me to be picked on, and eventually I turned anorexic. Another four years, and I'm somewhere near 'normal.'

Parents need to realize the disservice they're doing to their children. Face it. Whether you eat that last bit of food or throw it away, it doesn't make a difference. Either way, the food is gone afterwards and doesn't do anyone any good.

I force my kids to eat when they're not hungry.

Before you start emailing death threats, let me explain. When my wife or I cook a meal, we let our children take as much as they want. Our rule is they must eat what they take. This came about because of the wholesale wasting of food at our house. They can have seconds or thirds, as much as they can consume. If one of them starts to get more than we think they can handle, we remind them of the rule. If they decide to continue on and load down their plate, that's what they have to eat. If they get stubborn about it, we refrigerate the plate, and they get served only that food until it is consumed. Now that they have realized that they can get seconds or thirds, they take small portions. My youngest daughter lost some of her chubbiness, since she realized that she was full after eating a normal meal.

...are doing the child a grave disservice. I'm not talking about Rancid Pickle's serving food that the child himself takes on his plate for the next meal. "You take it, you finish it at some point before you get anything else." That is not forcing him to eat when he's not hungry.

I'm talking about the parents who believe that their child is not chubby enough, chubby being equated with healthy in children below the age of 5.

A boy entered my daycare when he was three. His parents told me, "he doesn't eat right, you must sit with him, and feed him what I give you. He won't want it, but you must take the spoon and make him eat it." I was dumbfounded. A three year old unable to feed himself? The very first meal I saw, I could not believe. A bowl heaping with noodles, vegetables and meat. Very healthy, yes. The quantity was more than I, a full grown adult, could ever finish at one sitting. The size was completely innappropriate for a three year old.

The boy was very unhappy as the meal time hour approached. He would sit listless next to the other children, hands at his side, staring out the window, at the ceiling, anywhere that was NOT on his plate. I did not feed him. I gave him a fork and said, "eat what you like, you don't have to finish it." He sat there quietly crying, but did not eat.

He did eat a few bites of carrots and a few sips of milk that I offered for snack later. For a week, this continued. He was sent the same thing every day. No variety what-so-ever. The parents berated me for not force feeding the child. The parents berated the child, in front of the other kids, for being a bad child and not eating. After that, I chucked the food out. Yes, bad me, but I could see right away the child had serious food issues and something needed to be done, quickly. The child was controlling the one thing that he could control, that which entered his mouth. The parents forcing it was making matters worse and they could not see that. That evening I told the parents, they didn't have to pack for him. I would provide all his meals during the day. "What will it cost me?" nothing extra. free. So the journey began to fix what needed fixing so badly.

It took 6 months of offering varying foods. Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack. Served family style. Take what you like. He started trying new foods, small portions at a time at least at two of the serving times. He started to help pick out what we would have for snack. He started to help prepare it. He started to smile more. He started to eat, on his own, when he was hungry. He started to look forward to meal times.

When he was with me a year, the parents announced that they were providing his meals again. They were angry. At his four year old checkup he had gained "only" four pounds from the previous year. He was too skinny. I was starving the boy. They told me in no uncertain terms that I was to feed the boy everything that they provided. I was to sit there and make him finish every bite. I told them that they were WRONG. I printed out every nutrition pamphlet I had for them. I researched healthy eating, childhood behavior, etc, etc. I gave them articles on food disorders. I gave them the nutrition guidelines. I gave them copies of the menus, the kids and I had carefully planned. I belonged to one of the nutrition programs for kids. I had training every three months. I was monitored by the state. I know of what I speak. Force feeding leads to eating disorders, feelings of low self-worth, feelings of having no control. A three year old is busting out to have some control over his world! I also told them that I would NOT force feed the child. Period. If they didn't like it, they would have to find alternative daycare.

They did not remove him. They sent food. I offered it, along with the meals I offered as a group to the kids. He ate what he liked. I tossed out what he did not eat. It was not spoken of again. He ate healthily for any normal preschooler. The parents sucked up their disapproval of my methods and put up with me. Why do you ask? Not because they accepted any of my arguments or evidence that I knew what I was doing when it came to the health and welfare of young children. Not because their son was happy. They put up with me because I was the cheapest child care that they could find.

Sometimes the parenting I saw made me want to cry.

Sometimes, it is necessary to force a child to eat. I work at a large Christian daycare center. Recently, a new child (two years old) came to my classroom, with instructions to force-feed her stage three baby food if she didn't eat her solid food.

The parents later explained that their child has a texture aversion. According to my research, this means that her nerve endings, specifically in her mouth, are extremely sensitive to new sensations. These incredible sensations frighten her, causing her to gag and become extremely upset. Luckily, she has a mild version of the disorder. Some children will actually vomit if any part of their skin comes in contact with a strange sensation. Many of these children grow to be undernourished, underweight, and incur many health problems due to poor development.

Unfortunately, these children don't usually associate hunger with food, so she will not eat simply when she's hungry. Thus, because of her disorder, it is necessary for us to feed her a food we know will not frighten her if she doesn't eat enough solid food-forcing her if necessary. This may cause psychological damage, but that's our only option at this point in time, as IV injections would cause her disorder to regress.

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