Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] "For the child's own good"?

From: Richard Berlin <>
Date: Wed Dec 14 02:48:00 2005

On Dec 13, 2005, at 4:44 PM, Marilu Diaz wrote:

> When it comes to diet there may be clear threats that we must address,
> such
> as chronic health family history (diabetes/hypoglycemia, obesity,
> etc.) in
> addition to well known health offenders (smoke, carcinogens, etc, etc,
> etc).
> My daughter is 6 year old and already addicted to refined sugars via
> birthday parties and the typical well intentioned people everywhere
> that
> keep offering her candy. EVERYONE in my family has some kind of
> related
> condition (diabetes or hypoglycemia, including child diabetes in all my
> nieces/nephews). In addition, my daughter is becoming overweight.
> Should I
> keep letting her choose her fate? How far should her freedom go,
> since she
> does not understand the long term consequence of her binges?

I'm in the same boat--overweight child, sugar sensitivities all
throughout his ancestry--and it worries me greatly. (Parenthetically,
he was a fabulously healthy eater until about 3 years old, *despite*
being fed garbage at daycare.) Even with the reassurance from his
teacher--who says his weight is not limiting his participation in any
way--it's hard work for me to control *my* anxiety instead of *his*
food intake. But the emerging model for controlling childhood obesity
is "trust," not "control," and with good reason, I think.

In the short run, my attempts at control would be limited by my reach.
When he's actually with me, I could theoretically exert complete
control (at some emotional cost, which I estimate to be quite high) but
as he gets older he's with me less and less. With significant effort,
I might be able to prevent most of the other adults he comes in contact
with from giving him sugar or white flour (again, at some emotional
cost). As long as feeding him white foods does not result in a medical
emergency, however, those other caregivers are unlikely to maintain a
high level of vigilance, and stuff is going to sneak through the
cracks. A few years ago, someone fed my child leavened foods on
Passover: the teachers were respectfully complying with our requests,
e.g. giving him the alternate snacks we provided, but they were
blind-sided by a parent who show up with "Easter goodies" and handed
them out without asking anyone.

In the long run, what is the attitude or relationship to food that is
going to serve my child best? And is my exerting strict control going
to help or hinder the development of that attitude? Sooner or later,
"my parent won't let me eat that" will fail to be sufficient basis for
a decision. And if the food has been given "forbidden" status--which
frequently enhances its emotional hold--I would not be surprised to see
binges, secretive eating, hoarding...yecch.

So on both counts, strict parental control strikes me as a losing
proposition. The pediatrician probably *wants* me to control
everything my son eats, but it's just too easy for her to give advice
that she doesn't have to implement herself. (Nor must she live with
the consequences on a daily basis; do you know *anyone* who doesn't get
cranky when calories are restricted?) Besides, my goal as a parent is
not simply to control the obesity *now*; it's to give my child the
ability to control it throughout his life. That calls for a nuanced
strategy, not brute force.

Our child is the only person who is there 100% of the time; it only
makes sense that we are better off applying our effort to his
decision-making *process* rather than his decisions. That doesn't mean
we have given up all responsibility for his health, but it does mean
rejecting the notion that we can make his eating decisions for him.
We express our concerns, respectfully and repeatedly. Since his
internal controls are evidently faulty, we frequently ask him to tune
in to his body, e.g. "Is your tummy empty, partly full, or full?" When
he goes for his third serving of the same food, we might say "It
doesn't look like that's satisfying you. Perhaps you'd like to try
something else?" We remind him that eating fruits and veggies will
help him avoid constipation, which he fears, and encourage him to
regain his adventurous attitude towards new foods, which seems to have
gone by the wayside lately. We read packages for him and show him what
a "serving size" is. We pack lunch for him, ensuring that there is
always a fruit, a vegetable, and a protein. And we refuse to be
complicit in decisions we disagree with: we negotiate with him when
shopping, but we won't agree to loading up the cart (or the house) with
junk food.

There are encouraging signs that this strategy is helping over time.

As I am first drafting this (about 6:00 PM) he wants macaroni and
cheese, even though he is intending to have a hamburger for dinner. I
pointed out that this was probably more than his tummy could handle.
He weighed his immediate hunger against the fact that he wants to eat
hamburgers with his mom (a picnic in the car) and my stated opinion
that eating two full entrees within half an hour of one another would
be too much food. Without any further prompting from me he came up
with his own out-of-the-box solution: he is now distracting himself by
playing videographer.

He also knows that there can be unseen health effects of food and that,
just as he sees his parents avoiding foods that make them sick, he may
need to do the same. His favorite food is sushi, but one day I weighed
the fish portions, calculated out how much he was eating, and was
alarmed at the amount of mercury he could be consuming. I explained
very sympathetically what effects it might be having on his body and
why I did not want to buy it for him for a good long while. After some
grieving, he compromised on salmon sushi--which is safe from a mercury
perspective--and foregoes the other varieties that he used to eat, with
nary a complaint.

I can't claim that everything with him goes smoothly--far from it, I
think we have to put a lot more effort into parenting than most adults
we know--and he doesn't always make eating decisions perfectly. But
neither does any adult I know, so demanding perfection would be futile:
what we're looking for is a level of compliance that is healthful and
that he can live with. He has proven himself capable of making
rational decisions, about this and other things with regard to his
well-being: seat belt, sunscreen, coat....

Our son is five (And a half! he would add). I offer that as purely
theoretic evidence that your six year old might be similarly
capable--given favorable circumstances--and therefore you could have
middle ground open to you, somewhere between "letting her choose her
fate" and denying "her freedom."

Best regards and good luck to you both,

-- Rich


       . | "But there must be a way | .
      (i) | To have our children say: | (%)
    CC @ 33 | | CC @ 33
    (e) (:) | 'There are so many colors in a rainbow | (?) (})
     ` \ ' | So many colors in the morning sun | ` \ '
       | | So many colors in a flower | |
     \ | / | And I see every one.'" | \ | /
      \|/ | | \|/
     ~~~~~ | -- Harry Chapin, "Flowers are Red" | ~~~~~
Received on Wed Dec 14 2005 - 02:47:41 EST

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