Fashions in parenting strategies come and go and there is a new trend on the block. “Teddy torturing” is a method whereby parents coerce a child to eat by threatening their favourite toy with harm if they don’t comply. Apparently it works! But at what cost? Children test boundaries as part of their development. It helps them learn who they are as a separate identity from their parents and to understand what behaviour is acceptable.
Small children actually have very little control over their lives, so they usually test limits around eating, toileting and sleep as you can’t physically make them do these things. This can be extremely frustrating and worrying for parents and may make them feel powerless and fearful. This is probably why some parents feel the need to resort to such extreme measures. The end result may be that the child does the desired behaviour- they will be afraid of the consequences if they don’t. Many people have rightly suggested that this may play out in the future as a fear of eating or as other anxious behaviours.
There is however an even greater concern about this use of threat. The attachment that children have to a favourite toy is very strong. They are learning about relationships and starting to develop empathy skills. To see your parent, who is the most important person in the world to a small child, physically harming a toy to which you have a strong bond is confusing, frightening and will make them feel unsafe. By understanding the emotional needs of children, we can learn to manage behaviours in a more appropriate, nurturing and effective way. Being frightened into submission is not the way to help children to make good choices and regulate their emotions and behaviour. Children need to feel safe and secure to be able to learn and develop the skills they need as they grow. Modelling encouragement and positive behaviours with our children will support them to become adults who are both confident and caring.