Except in rare cases, children instinctively know when and how much they need to eat. Telling a child to finish dinner is unnecessary, annoying, and controlling. It often leads to unhealthy emotional reactions to the natural process of eating only when hungry.
Other than reasonable rules, such as no unhealthy snacks before dinner, not serving yourself more than you can finish, or not having junk food and candy in the house, it’s best not to vigilantly control how much your child eats.
When children receive a lot of attention over how much or what they eat, their behavior relating to food becomes a way to get a response from those around them. It may become a way to gain a sense of control, to get attention, to rebel, or to get approval. These are not healthy reasons to determine how much or what to eat.
Children go through phases of eating little and eating a lot. When they do not receive too much external direction, they learn to pay attention and respond appropriately to their own physical needs. This is one of the area’s in a child’s life where more freedom is healthy, as long as there’s not too much junk food available.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD