Q. A morning talk show recently featured a YouTube video in which a dad tricked his daughter into eating vegetables with chocolate. Is that a good way to get my child to eat vegetables?
A. There are so many problems with this video. Tricking a person into doing something once might not lead to a problem. However, tricking a child to eat means doing it repeatedly in a single sitting, and repeatedly over just a few days. This can result in significant behavioral problems and eventual refusal to eat. What we generally don’t realize is that eating is the only thing over which a baby or young child has complete control.
At Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia we have seen many different ways that parents have tricked their child into eating. Some parents have shown their child a preferred food (like chocolate in the case above) and then sneak in vegetables when he opens his mouth, or some tickle their child and place food in their mouth when they are laughing. These tactics diminish trust and can cause significant behavioral problems. In more severe cases, parents might trick their child and then hold their hands so they can’t reject the food.
It is a scary for parents when their child will not eat or refuses to eat healthy foods. Unfortunately, some parents resort to forcing, bribing or tricking their child to eat. Initially, these tactics are reinforced as there can be a very short-term increase in volume. The downside, however, is that the "gentle" tricking can lead to gentle forcing, which then becomes overt forcing before parents realize it. These tricking tactics lead to increased aversive behaviors, refusals and distrust and can result in total feeding refusal. Now you have a long-term problem.
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So if a child doesn’t want to eat, what should you do? Identifying the reasons that your child is refusing is an important first step. It is natural for every child to want to eat, not to eat only when tricked or forced. There are many reasons that some babies or children experience discomfort while eating. It is very important to have your child evaluated so that feeding difficulties can be identified and treated. Continued discomfort or pain with feeding reinforces disinterest in food. With intervention your child will experience pleasant feeding experiences and learn that feeding is safe and enjoyable. At that point you will have no reason to even consider tricking your child to eat.
If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Joan or any of our experts by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan Dietrich Comrie of Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia (919-877-9800) has dedicated her entire career to studying, teaching and practicing in the area of dysphagia, specifically pediatric dysphagia. She received her bachelor of science degree and then her master of science degree in the area of speech pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1986. Before starting Carolina Pediatric Dysphagia in 1996, she worked at several hospitals (Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, Lexington, Ky., Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., and WakeMed, Raleigh) where she developed or reorganized the hospital's pediatric dysphagia program.
Joan has spoken on the topic of pediatric dysphagia nationally and internationally. She has published in a professional journal. She co-taught the first dysphagia course offered at UNC and continues to guest lecture to several university graduate level speech pathology programs and to the UNC Medical Students who complete their rotation at WakeMed. She has served as chairman and member of a subcommittee of the Special Interest Division 13 of the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). She has received her certificate of clinical competence (CCC) through ASHA and is licensed in the state of North Carolina.