Sunday, June 01, 2008

Picky Eating

Ian at Musings has a gutsy post up calling homeschoolers to task for their children's bratty behavior. He specifies large families, but in my experience having a large family only magnifies issues: I've seen plenty of rotten and uncorrected child behavior in one- and two-child families.

Interestingly, most of the objections are directed at his criticism of children not eating what they're served. There are a couple of valid points made in response.

First, it's arguably the polite thing to simply not eat food you're served that, for whatever reason, you can't or won't eat. This is what we've trained our children to do: you don't complain about the food, you don't explain why you can't or won't eat it, you just smile and say "It's great!" when asked, you push it around with your fork, and you trust that your parents will give you a sandwich when you go home.

Our kids are vegetarians (they get it from Eudoxus), and anybody who has had to hang out with the more militant of that tribe--particularly vegans, for some reason--has reason to thank us for training our children to just keep quiet about it, eat the bread and salad, and have some beans and rice when we get home. Some friends of ours who are Orthodox Jews have this down pat; you don't burden others with your eating limitations, you don't make them feel guilty that they don't have anything you can eat, you don't announce to them ahead of time what your children can and can't eat, you just decline politely and keep your own snacks in the car.

Second, as at least one commenter at Musings observes, in the days when it was a virtue to eat whatever was placed in front of you, not only was vegetarianism rare, but it was a safe bet that what Joey's mom was serving for dinner would be in the same general culinary class as what your own mom was serving. I really don't believe it's realistic to think a five-year-old must be trained to gulp down sushi, borscht, or gorditas con chicharron when they've never seen such foods before and are suddenly confronted with them.

Or maybe I'm just raising bratty kids. Thoughts?


Blogger Soutenus said...

My children have also been taught to say thank you if food is already on the plate at a friend's house.
If serving plates are passed they take from the choices they desire and should thank the cook and compliment when it is honest.
If pressured to eat something they do not want (usually this falls under the category of McDonald's, junk foods, etc.) -- they will, hopefully say, "I do not care for any right now but thank you."

My biggest gripes, when it comes to manners, are these:

1) Children who wander through my house looking anywhere they please. Our upstairs is our private bedroom area and I HATE it when kids start running upstairs assuming we have a play area up there -- or that it is "ok" to play in a bedroom!
I am a teacher and an older Mom now that my youngest is 8. I stop them cold! I am polite but very "teachery".
"We do not play upstairs in our house, Suzy. Would you & Tommy like to go out into the back yard or the family room?"

2) Children who say, "Oh God!" as a meaningless expression. This one I deal with much the same way - head on and clearly.
"Gary, in our house we use God's name when we are praying- not casually. That is a house rule here. Do you understand?"

3) Children who climb, bounce or stand on furniture, banisters or walls (i.e.: couches, chairs, beds, tables). One neighbor boy was allowed to climb the door jambs at his house. Obviously that presented a problem.

I do have a discipline (almost) horror story. I was 16 years younger than I am now. I would have stopped this kid IMMEDIATELY if this happened today.
My best friend from 1st through 12th grade was visiting with her husband and children. Her youngest boy (about 3 at the time) started throwing some ROCKS that he had in his pocket. It gets worse . . . in my solarium!
His parents sat idly by and did not one thing to stop him. It took me 4 rock throws to divert his attention to something less destructive.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Sophia said...

That all sounds very reasonable to me! I do remind our extended family that my daughter is a vegetarian. Like you, though, I don't say anything to friends and acquaintances about it, either. I think it is good for her to be able to make her vegetarianism work for her in other ways than to bring attn to herself with it.

Also, I am wondering if you have seen this article in Parade magazine:

I hope you and yours are doing well!

9:29 PM  
Blogger Kimmer said...

I think that your kids are perfectly within their rights to politely refuse food. Kids from all walks of life can be rude--bad parenting doesn't correlate to how/where your kids are schooled.

The Parade article infuriates me, particularly "He says the case “pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens.”

Excuse me? I homeschool BECAUSE I place a premium on raising well-educated citizens!

12:06 PM  
Blogger mrsdarwin said...

Frankly, the bit about picky eaters or kids not consuming everything on their plates seems like a bit of a straw man to me. As you and the other commenters have amply demonstrated (here and over at Musings), kids can politely refuse food. I don't expect my kids to eat everything on their plates when we're out, even if I served them myself, because sometimes I overestimate their appetites.

But I do expect them to eat neatly and not make a fuss about food, and I think that's what Ian was complaining about. Kids grabbing food and running around with it and whining about it and making a mess with it is not a problem stemming from picky eating, but from poor preparation for a social situation on the part of the parents. Of course parents are responsible for instilling good manners in their children (whether they homeschool or no!), but to conflate the issue with the (to me) non-issue of whether children eat everything they're served only makes parents defensive. Point in case -- nearly every parent who commented on the post felt they needed to justify their own food policy. I wouldn't expect his kids to eat like your kids to eat like my kids, but not eating in the living room without permission is merely common courtesy.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Wow! That post is a year and a half old! Thanks for your thoughts on this.

9:11 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Yes, well, have you seen the rate I blog at? A year and a half is timely for me. Good post, by the way.

I've been thinking about whether homeschooled children are more guilty of bad behavior. I don't think they are, but I think people notice it more and link it to homeschooling in a way they don't for other kids. Nobody sees bad behavior and goes around saying "Public schooling leaves them unsocialized. I knew this one public schooled kid and he was a terror."

5:46 AM  
Blogger Sophia said...

Yeah, I think you're right about that, opinionated. Public schooled children are not as stereotyped as homeschooled kids. The links are made more quickly when you're homeschooled since you are a minority.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Soutenus said...

I think public & private school children have lots of experience at "reading" the mood of the adult in charge. They are more conditioned to figuring out the "authority of the day or place."
Stereotypically - Homeschooled kids look me in the eye (which I like). They are also more prone to question me (which is fine).
The public school kids (again stereotyping here) are more wordly and more apt to scurry on outside - the ultimate goal for every child when visiting our place in the woods :-)
Maybe that assertiveness (which I prefer) is uncomfortable to some?
I can add that of the two "WILDEST" clans of kid visitors --one clan is homeschooled and the other goes to public school although the parents are looking into boarding school!

11:44 AM  
Blogger Yahmdallah said...

Well, your kids have great manners, but it would cause me to display some of my bad ones. When I'm feeding my children's friends, if they don't eat, I pry and pry until I either determine I need to cook something they'll eat, or find out why they're not hungry (too many snacks). So far, it's worked, and now the ones that know me feel free to tell me if I'm offering to make something they don't like. We were gonna do spaghetti-o's recently, and one of the kids piped right up, "I don't like spaghetti-o's" which saved a lot of drama.

I hope the folks that know you at least try to prepare something the kids will eat.

9:46 AM  

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