Why you should not force your child to eat

Motherhood and paternity mark a before and after in the life of every human being. Since the birth of our son, we defend our expectations and our desires almost fiercely. We have it very clear: we want them to sleep as we think they should sleep, we want them to behave as we think they should behave and of course we want them to eat how, when and how much we believe they should eat. Then reality. And that is, especially in the subject of food, parents and mothers we spent the first years of parenting anguished by the survival of those children who so unjustly labeled "messy", so little we think they eat or the "swims" that seem Serve them for sustenance. We are both concerned that it is a recurrent reason for consultation in our appointments with the pediatrician. But the answer is not in the ambulatory but, almost always, it is in our expectations. Forcing them to eat what we expect them to eat should never be a reasonable possibility. A very common situation and deserves a mention on this World Food day.

Why should we never force a child to eat

"Don't force your child to eat. Never oblige you, by any means, under any circumstances, for any reason. " In 1999, the pediatrician Carlos Gonzalez explained in my child does not eat me why you never have to force a child to eat. The dietitian-nutritionist Julio Basulto confirmed in it makes me Bola, published in 2013, that there was no nutritional justification whatsoever to oblige. It also insists on it often in its profiles of social networks and reaffirms it on the other side of the telephone with the country: "Forcing a child to eat is not ethical, neither educational and is counterproductive. The goal is not that the child eats but wants to eat, and wants to eat healthy, and that is not achieved by coercion, pressure, insistence or prizes and punishment. The child is the only one who knows how much to eat, we do not know the nutritionists, doctors and parents do not know. Only the child's brain knows. "

She shares her position Maria Bassols way, dietitian-nutritionist and author of various publications around child nutrition, who stresses that in our midst the concern should be that more than 40% of children have an overweight problem. He also insists that forcing the force to eat, when it has been said that it is not desired or not needed, in addition to disrespect for the child, is not effective. "It is usually insisted that the child eat more or with the will to increase the variety of foods he or she consumes certain supposedly healthy foods and that they" have to eat. " If the child does not want them and we force them to eat them, they will hardly choose them motu proprio in future occasions because precisely forcing to eat tends to provoke aversion and rejection towards the food that has been forced to eat, "he explains.

Do not force your child to eat. Never oblige you, by any means, under any circumstances, for any reason. "

Recalls Carlos Sabot, a pediatrician specializing in infant nutrition, which the American Academy of Pediatrics already warned in the late 70 in the pediatric nutrition Handbook, that the child's appetite "is erratic and unpredictable," and points out that it should not be Forcing you to eat at home but not at school either. "Only the child knows what he needs through a experimentadísimo mechanism that takes millennia to work in a thousand Wonders: hunger."

On the consequences of forcing children to eat, María Vallejo Guardiola, an expert psychologist in obesity and eating Disorders (TCA), explains that with this action we alter the relationship of the little ones with the food in the present, but also in the Future, a fact that also influences the construction of attachment. "If the action of eating is forced, it alters its natural function. A child forced to eat disconnects from his body, does not enjoy the experience and see the mealtime as something aversive. In addition, the adult who forces to eat is not being empathetic and impairs the establishment of a secure attachment based on mutuality. A child who has been forced to eat in his upbringing is much more likely to become an adult with food problems, "he says. Behind overweight and obese patients, Vallejo has observed that there are often "stories of endless hours at the table, where no one would rise without the whole empty plate", something that causes mismatches like reaching adulthood with problems to stop Eat when it's already satiated.

Bribery, the most common way

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics the most common way parents use to force their children to eat is bribery. But she's not the only one. In a ball, Basulto sums it up in eight actions: threats, emotional blackmail, hostility and despotism, humiliation, lying, pressure and/or coercion, terror, violence and/or psychological abuse. And it puts examples of phrases like "if you don't eat it, I'll take you to the hospital and have to give you a probe," Don't get up from the table until you eat it "or" Tapo your nose for your sake, so you'll swallow it. "

On that action precisely, Gloria Colli, pediatrician and author of your breastfeeding from beginning to end, warns that it is necessary to keep in mind that forcing to eat is not only to cover the nose of the child and to "put the spoon when it opens to breathe", also to resort to phrases Apparently innocent like "if you don't eat, Mom is going to get sad", "if you eat it all you will get big and strong" or "if you do not eat the vegetable there is no dessert." "They are equally unfortunate resources because they also involve emotional manipulation. Even resorting to the typical airplane can be a way to force if it stops being a game and one of the parties no longer finds it amusing, "he says.

If you don't eat it, I'll take you to the hospital and have to give it to you by tube, "Don't get up from the table until you eat it."

Carlos Sabot adds other covert ways like "Teatritos", praising the virtues of what is offered to eat or the use of screens (mobile with videos or tablet with cartoons). However, it also adds some optimism: it is found in the systems of the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) or learn to eat alone (ACS) that have arrived to stay. "Many young mothers are very well informed and adopt this system that respects the baby's signs of satiety," she says.

But not only does the home become the usual setting for food pressures. School canteens are too. María Bassols Way has participated in various guides on the role of adults in the meals they share with children. A couple of years ago the public Health Agency of Catalonia published the document accompanying the meals of the children. Tips for school canteens and families, which precisely addresses this issue, both from school and home. The text arose from the need expressed from the collective of school canteens (AMPAs, monitors and coordinators of the canteens) on how to position themselves in situations such as refusal to eat or to try certain foods. "The simple fact that it generates debate on what has to be the attitude of the adult, that arise doubts, that you ask the administration that works with the canteens what is their opinion and positioning, that goes out in the media, etcetera, evidence that some "Traditional" practices of imposition, obligation or coercion are being questioned, "he raises.

Nowadays many school canteens are directly linked to the pedagogical projects of the centres, which promotes the involvement, participation and learning of children with regard to food. "It is true that a collective dining room is more difficult to manage than a home, and that there are certain practices, such as allowing it not to eat something that it does not want, requires a coordinated and profound work with the adults responsible for the dining room and also with the children and not Ñas But if there is a willingness to work from this perspective, the experience of many canteens tells us that it is possible to accompany the meals of the children from this prism, "explains Maria Way.

Children who do not eat

Food is one of the biggest concerns of parents during their children's first three years of life. It is seen by Carlos Cosabon in his consultation, which is attended by parents concerned not only by the amount but also by what and when to feed their children. "The environment has changed dramatically and what we gave before with four months, now is not recommended until six or seven months. What before recommended twelve months, now we say that you can offer the six. This disorients a lot of families, but we try to give the most current nutritional advice and always in relation to the scientific evidence that exists, above the commercial interests that have always been present. What happens is that now we are more attentive and the information runs faster, "says Sabot.

It considers "paradoxical" the pediatrician that we worry because the children of between two and four years eat "little" in the epoch of the humanity in which more overweight and infantile obesity there are: "We are" manufacturing "those who will be adults with obesity, with all the repercussions That this entails. " Insists that the parents "should not worry about what their child eats, but if you are happy, run and play, without taking excessive illnesses or take them banal", because there is no malnutrition in Spain but "malnutrition by excess and bad food with Empty calories and excessive consumption of pastries. " However, it also adds that there are times when the pediatrician should study specific cases in which there are symptoms associated with a true lack of appetite such as apathy, weakness, pallor or diarrhea.

Food is one of the biggest concerns of parents during their children's first three years of life.

Gloria Colli believes that the concern for feeding children is inherent in motherhood and parenthood: "There is always something that worries us. If you don't drink enough milk or drink too much, if you eat little vegetables, if you don't try the fruit, if you don't get it to eat healthier... And it's good that parents worry, because we get them to be informed and involved in the task of making the whole family make a healthier diet, but you have to be careful that it does not become an obsession that prevents them from enjoying pleasant moments Around the food. "

What to do to make mealtime a pleasant time? Colli recommends that the first thing we need to do is turn off the TV and take that time to chat with the family, preventing the central theme is food. "The food is only spoken to congratulate the Cook. If your child does not like vegetables, no matter how much you tell him 20 times he is very rich, he will still not like him. If we want food to be a nice time, let's avoid conflicting situations. And let's take an example. Children learn by imitation so if we eat well, in the end they will too. "

And when a child doesn't want to eat, what can we do? Mary responds Bassols Way that we should respect him, just as we would with an adult person. "The signs of self-regulation of hunger and satiety are innate and, in healthy children, they are effective when covering their energetic and nutritional requirements. In our environment, with abundant availability of food at any time and anywhere, there is no nutritional justification for forcing someone to eat who is not hungry or does not want to eat, "he concludes.