Recently whilst riding the bus I observed a boy of about eight sitting with his mother diagonally across from me. The boy was grumpy and whiny, with tears welling up in his eyes. Although I was unaware of what the problem was, I could see that he was tired and fed up. The mother momentarily attempted to console him with words, but then reached into her bag and presented him with an individual serve of biscuits in a small packet. The boy considered the offering, and with what appeared to be defeat began to eat the biscuits, quietly.
As I observed this, I felt a wave of emotion come over me—I felt pity.
I felt pity for the mother. I understand how incredibly challenging and exhausting it must be to deal with a whiny child. I can appreciate how tempting it must be to put an end to the incessant chatter and whining with food.
I felt deeper pity for the child. How is he learning to deal with his emotions—by eating?
Obviously, I only witnessed one moment in this child’s life. Yet, I have witnessed this behaviour time and time again.
I have seen how common it is to shut a child up or bribe a child to be quiet or be better behaved with food. Food is such a simple and accessible comfort that can become a similar reflex to putting a pacifier in the mouth of a crying baby.
In that moment, sitting on the bus, the pity I felt was with regards to what was being reinforced to this child about food. I thought, ‘is it any wonder that as adults we use food to distract and numb ourselves from our emotions when this is exactly what many parents do to comfort and preoccupy their child? Is it any wonder that many of us eat rather than process or express our emotions, or eat because we are bored or unsure of how to deal with our current situation?’
I know I have.
Disclaimer: my intention in writing this blog is not to provide advice to parents, although if you require guidance with feeding your child so they become more competent and intuitive eating I high recommend the work of Ellyn Satter Institute.