Feeding is arguably one of the most time-consuming and grueling jobs of parenthood. Often thankless, and plagued with parental insecurity and low confidence, parents struggle and muddle through the process of feeding their children. Here is a sobering statistic: throughout an 18 year childhood, a parent will feed their child over 28,000 times (assuming age-appropriate meals and snacks). The effort to feed a child can be overwhelming…planning, procuring, preparing, serving, and cleaning up.
Parent feeding styles, and their impact, warrant attention, particularly when you look at the magnitude of feeding interactions throughout a child’s life.
Researchers suggest that feeding styles, or the attitudes and actions a parent uses in the process of feeding their child, closely mirror parenting styles. Did you know that each parent has a style of their own when it comes to feeding? And while one style is generally used most of the time, all the parenting styles can overlap and mingle.
Our feeding styles also tend to mimic our own experiences as a child; they are deeply ingrained, and our “go to” method for feeding our own children. In other words, parent feeding styles reflect childhood experiences with food and eating. In the current climate of childhood obesity, it is sobering to think about the feeding styles that our current generation of children may be using with their future offspring.
There are four parenting styles and as an extension of this, feeding styles:
Authoritarian, also known as “parent-centered” parenting. In the realm of feeding, this style is associated with “The Clean Your Plate Club”, where rules about eating predominate, from trying foods to completing a meal. Dessert is contingent upon eating dinner. Parents plate the food for their children. Eating is directed by the parent, rather than self-directed by the child. A child’s true feelings and subsequent actions about food and eating may be hidden, while potential animosity and compensatory behaviors build around eating. Weight problems, both underweight and overweight, are correlated with this parenting style.
Permissive, also known as “The ‘Yes’ Parent”. A parent with this parenting style feeds their child in a similar fashion: even though “no” or limitations may be the first response, “yes” ultimately reigns. The classic example of this is the mother who is attempting to manage the vocal child in the grocery store who wants candy at the checkout stand. He begs and begs, hearing, “no, no, no…well….okay, I guess so.” Children of permissive feeders may become overweight, as research shows that the limits on calorie-dense foods may be unlimited.
Neglectful parenting, when aligned with feeding, often produces the ill-prepared parent: irregular shopping, empty cabinets and refrigerators, and no plan for meals. Food and eating may lack importance for the parent, and that may transcend to feeding their child. Children who experience this feeding style may feel insecure about food and eating, and unsure about when they will have their next meal, if they will like it, and if it will be enough. These children may become overly focused on food and frequently question the details around mealtime.
Authoritative, or the “Love with Limits” parenting style, promotes independent thinking and self-regulation within the child, but also sets boundaries within which the child is expected to operate. The authoritative feeder determines the details around the meal (what will be served, when it will happen, and where it will be served), but allows the child to decide if they will eat what is prepared, and how much they will eat. Trust and boundaries are the basis of this parent feeding style. Children who have authoritative parents in the home tend to be leaner, good at self-regulating their food consumption, and feel secure with food and eating. The most current research advocates this style of parenting/feeding as an effective childhood obesity prevention approach.
So, mom and dad, what’s your feeding style and how is it affecting your child?