So it turns out that overly strict parenting might contribute to an increase in childhood obesity. I'm so glad that this issue is finally getting press, as CNN reported today:
Study: Strict parenting might lead to obese kids.
Flexible rule-setting moms most likely to avoid chubby kids
"CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- 'Clean your plate or else!' and other authoritarian approaches to parenting might lead to overweight children, a new study finds.
"Strict mothers were nearly five times more likely to raise tubby first-graders than mothers who treated their children with flexibility and respect while also setting clear rules."
Here's my reasoning: If a child feels full, yet a parent makes them continue to eat, the child learns that their own feelings of being full should be ignored. With this self-denial repeated meal after meal, day after day, children become so disconnected from what it feels to be hungry or full that they eventually cannot regulate themselves. This can lead to overeating because kids can no longer "hear" their bodies when their bodies say, "Full! Enough! Stop eating!"
Here's another dire consequence: When a parent encourages children to ignore their own feelings, I think this extends to other areas, too. After being made to ignore such a basic human experience of hunger/fullness, what else will children ignore in themselves? Being sad? Happy? Confused? Do all feelings now get pushed a little deeper down inside? If so, this can lead to depression.
There is something else at work here. Children spend their early years just learning about which foods they like. It is said that it takes 10-20 tries for some kids to decide if they like a new food. It is a natural process for a child to refuse food at certain times. Strict-feeding regimens short-circuit this developmentally appropriate approach.
We all know people who were forced to clean their plates as children, often under threat of punishment. For those that I know, mealtimes and eating remain a source of conflict and discomfort.
Shouldn't eating be enjoyable instead of stressful and miserable? Indeed, it seems that children's quality of life depends on it.