Should you let your kids stop eating even if you suspect they're not quite full?
Or let them eat if you know they're not hungry?
The surprising answer is yes.
Otherwise, kids just learn to lie.
In most families, there is only one legitimate reason to eat: hunger.
That means if kids want to eat something they have to say they’re hungry, even if they’re not. “That cake looks good; I’m hungry.”
It also means that if they don’t want to eat something kids often have to say they’re not hungry, even if they are. “Those peas look gross; I’m not hungry.” (Sometimes kids also say, “I don’t like it,” to get out of eating.)
I don’t really think of this as lying, per se. Rather, children are working with the tools we give them. And, I don't think parents do this intentionally.
A story to illustrate the problem:
One day I was at a birthday lunch for a young child. Among the celebrants was a 5 year old girl. The little girl had a lovely lunch and when she was full she stopped eating. "I'm full," she announced.
So far so good.
About 30 minutes later, when the birthday cake came out: "Yum. I'm starving!"
I know there are parents out there who will say that it's possible this girl was hungry. After all, a half-hour had passed! I don't buy it.
Teach your kids to become fluent in the "language" of hunger—no matter how young they are.
Eating is a complicated business because people eat for all sorts of reasons and kids need to know this.
For instance, in addition to Tummy Hunger, people often eat because of the following reasons:
- Taste Hunger; something looks good. When this happens, it’s best to have a small portion, just a taste.
- Practical Hunger, they need to eat for practical reasons such as when there won’t be time for lunch later. In this case, you might have to have a few bites even if you aren’t hungry.
- Emotional Hunger, the times we eat to quench uncomfortable feelings. These situations are best responded to with a hug, or other comforting measure.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source: Tribole, E. and E. Resch, 2003. Intuitive Eating: a Revolutionary Program That Works., Vol. 2nd Edition. New York: St. Martin's Press.