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Child Caring

Young boy's eating isn't as big a problem as the fights it's causing between mom and dad

Hello Barbara,

My husband and 7- year- old are fighting over the refrigerator. My solution was to buy extra so supplies are always available. Even when there is a lot on hand, [my husband] still monitors his drinking and snacking. My son is not skinny but not overweight either. He is just a big boy. Always has been. Lately my husband has been monitoring him more and more. He makes comments about getting fat if he keeps eating all the time. My husband and I are very active people. We love to exercise and be healthy. My son is also active with soccer and karate. Last night we had a big nasty fight because he yelled at my son for eating my ice cream. I am constantly telling my husband to stop saying those things and leave my son alone. At the same time, I reassure my son that he can eat and drink whatever he wants within reason. I let him snack after dinner all the time. Sometimes I make him have fruit instead of chips or chocolate for example. Iím writing because my son's reaction last night, has made me very sad and angry. It took a long time to calm him down. He even stated, ďwhy doesnít daddy like me?Ē This is not common place but has been happening a lot more lately. I donít know what to do. Talking isnít helping.

From: Anonymous

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Dear Anonymous,

I don't blame you for worrying about this. Your child is suffering. Because a child's brain isn't fully developed (until about age 24!), there's something called magical thinking that takes place. His conclusion -- "dad doesn't like me" -- is the result of piecing facts together in an illogical way that he can't help. He knows something's amiss and he blames himself but he's unable to analyze it correctly and no matter how many times you, or dad, tell him it's about what he eats, he still won't believe you.

So that's one piece of the problem. Here's another:

Whenever parents disagree on a child-rearing issue and are unable to work it out, the end result is emotional distress for children. I obviously don't know if you or your husband is reacting inappropriately. What I can say with certainty is that the simple fact that it is causing friction (or worse?) between the two of you creates another layer of magical thinking: "Daddy is mad at mommy because of me; mommy is mad at daddy because of me. I'm a bad person."

Lastly, boys as well as girls develop eating disorders. It usually starts with disordered eating. The most likely profile for a boy who has an eating disorder is a teen who is trying to make weight in a sport, but disordered eating can also start because a child is anxious to please someone, like a parent. What's more, when examined in hindsight, disordered eating often is traced back to young ages.

My suggestion is for you and your husband to talk to your pediatrician and/or a nutritionist so that you can reach agreement on how to stock your refrigerator; and on how to gradually, in age-appropriate ways, move the responsibility of what your son eats away from the adults and to him. This is not an issue that's going to go away; eating, after all, is a life-long activity. The sooner you are able to come together about this, the better for everyone.