Mother knows best? Feeding styles and child obesity

“If I don’t let him have the food he wants, he throws a fit”

The issue: Tantrums over food

Why it matters: Food tantrums have been linked to an increased risk of overweight, and may lead the mother to perceive the child as hungry more often than he actually is.

Starting the conversation: “Sometimes parents tell me that if they don’t provide food when the child asks for it, the child has a tantrum. The parents often tell me that it’s really difficult to tell if the child is actually hungry, or is having a tantrum for some other reason. Do you ever think your child demands food when she (or he) really isn’t hungry? Why do you think she (or he) does that? Have you found any good ways of dealing with this behavior?”

“She’s such a difficult child”

The issue: The child is emotional, intense, and persistent.

Why it matters: Children with this kind of difficult temperament may induce parents to use food to get them to calm down. Children like this may be more persistent and intense in demanding food, and have food tantrums more frequently. This temperamental style has been linked to a higher risk of becoming overweight.

Starting the conversation: “People vary in how intense and persistent they are in approaching different problems in life. As an adult, being intense and persistent can really pay off. Often people who are very successful in their work have these traits. But when children have this kind of temperament, it can be a real challenge for their parents. How intense and persistent is your child when he wants something from you? Can you say ‘no’ and redirect him pretty easily, or is it hard to get him to focus on something else? Sometimes parents tell me their child is very intense and persistent about getting food, even when they’re pretty sure he isn’t really hungry. Is your child ever like that? How do you deal with it?”

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