Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. Call our answering machine with any advice or questions you have. Please check the end of the column for the toll-free number and today's question from a parent who needs your help.
Q: My 7-year-old son doesn't like what I fix for dinner. If we try to get him to eat it, mealtimes turn into a shouting match. My husband feels he should eat it or go to bed hungry, but I would rather let him eat cereal. How should we handle it when he doesn't eat?
Flat Rock, Mich.
A: It's one of the oldest tricks in the childhood book. Seal your lips at mealtime and see what happens.
Child development experts disagree on how to deal with children who won't eat. There are two camps: the 'go to bed hungry' proponents and those who warn against the long-term dangers of turning food into the pawn in a power struggle.
Judging from the opinions of parents who called Child Life, both camps have a strong following.
"I like the view that if the child does not eat the dinner, they can go hungry. It is their choice," says Jan Swayne of Los Gatos, Calif. "It is not their choice to have something else to eat because that is what the family is eating.
Kathy Franco of Statesville, N.C., sees it another way: "Sometimes we as parents want to control our children, not allowing them their own self-identity," she says. "This causes many problems later in life. The parents should have more consideration for their son. How would they like to be forced to eat something that they don't like?"
And then there are the parents who, having grown frustrated with the extremes, opted for the middle ground. Some called Child Life to suggest involving the child in menu planning and preparation, having a one-bite tasting rule and offering one standard alternative to the meal that the child fixes and cleans up for himself.
The best solution, says Ron Taffel, Ph.D., author of "Why Parents Disagree: How Women and Men Parent Differently and How We Can Work Together" (William Morrow, $23), is for the parents to become united in their approach. The father should take a few turns being completely in charge of dinner (planning, fixing, cleaning up) and putting the child to bed.
'When he sees what it feels like, I guarantee the two of them will be more on the same wavelength," he says.
While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.
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