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Parents who avoid dinner table arguments can get kids to eat


QUESTION: Should a parent try to force a child to eat?

DR. DOBSON: No. In fact, the dinner table is one potential battlefield where a parent can easily get ambushed. You can't win there! A strong-willed child is like a good military general who constantly seeks an advantageous place to take on the enemy. He need look no farther. Of all the common points of conflict between generations ... bedtime, hair, clothes, schoolwork, etc., the advantages at the table are all in the child's favor! Three times a day, a very tiny child can simply refuse to open his mouth. No amount of coercing can make him eat what he doesn't want to eat.

I remember one 3-year-old who was determined not to eat his green peas, despite the insistence of his father that the squishy little vegetables were going down. It was a classic confrontation between the irresistible force and an immovable object. Neither would yield. After an hour of haranguing, threatening, cajoling and sweating, the father had not achieved his goal. The tearful toddler sat with a fork load of peas pointed ominously at his sealed lips.

Finally, through sheer intimidation, the dad managed to get one bite of peas in place. But the lad wouldn't swallow them. I don't know everything that went on afterward, but the mother told me they had no choice but to put the child to bed with the peas still in his mouth. They were amazed at the strength of his will.

The next morning, the mother found a little pile of mushy peas where they had been expelled at the foot of the bed! Score one for Junior, none for Dad. Tell me in what other arena a 30-pound child could whip a 200-pound man?

Not every toddler is this tough, of course. But many of them will gladly do battle over food. It is their ideal power game. Talk to any experienced parent or grandparent and they will tell you this is true. The sad thing is that these conflicts are unnecessary. Children will eat as much as they need if you keep them from indulging in the wrong stuff. They will not starve. I promise!

The way to deal with a poor eater is to set good food before him. If he claims to not be hungry, wrap the plate, put it in the refrigerator and send him cheerfully on his way. He'll be back in a few hours. There is a little mechanism in his tummy that says "gimme food!" several times a day. When this occurs, do not put sweets, snacks or confectionery food in front of him. Simply retrieve the earlier meal, warm it up and serve it again. If he protests, send him out to play again. Even if 12 hours or more go by, continue this procedure until food - all food - begins to look and smell wonderful. From that time forward, the battle over the dinner table should be history.


QUESTION: What's the appeal of all this human suffering and violence on television and in movies? Why do people want more of it?

DR. DOBSON: I'm sure it has something to do with our desire for excitement and our need to escape from the boring existence many people experience. But, I have to admit I don't fully understand it. It is difficult to comprehend why people enjoy watching such bloody events.

A number of years ago, the No. 1 television program in the entire year, watched by more people than all the sporting events or any other single program in the course of the 12-month period, was "Helter Skelter," the story of the Charles Manson family. One incident in that TV special was the murder of a woman, 8 months pregnant, who was brutally stabbed in the abdomen. Why would anyone want to see such brutality? The popularity of that program and others like it speaks dramatically about the depravity of the American people and our lust for violence.


Send your questions to Dr. Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. These questions and answers are excerpted from books authored by Dr. James Dobson and published by Tyndale House Publishers. Dr. Dobson is the chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.