Few things strike as much fear into parents as the hunger-induced meltdown.
Many parents solve the problem by preempting the hunger-induced meltdown by carting a boatload of snacks around. I should know. I used to do it too.
Teaching kids to snack on demand is a bad lifelong habit to have. Researchers have concluded that some kids eat up to 10 times per day and that snacking is frequently no longer associated with hunger.
What’s more, there is no way to tell if your child’s meltdown is really related to hunger. Doling out snacks in that scenario just rewards bad behavior.
Here’s a post from the archives that explains why you can never know if your child’s meltdown really is due to hunger and one way you could respond.
Consider the following scenarios:
- You want to serve more fruits and vegetables for snack but the time you tried, your child refused and then had a hunger-induced meltdown. So now you stick to crackers because it’s the safer bet.
- You think the Rotation Rule is a good idea, but when you gave your child a choice between a turkey sandwich and a ham sandwich, she said she wanted peanut butter. You tried to stick to your guns (following my advice/script)—”You can have peanut butter tomorrow but today your choice is turkey or ham.”—but then your daughter refused to eat lunch and all afternoon she was a mess.
- You’re not fond of the before-bed snack, but when you don’t give your son a little something, he cries and then wakes up throughout the night. It’s not worth the fight.
I could go on, but you get my point. The hunger-induced meltdown gets in the way of your best plans…all the time!
You can connect the dots (hunger–>no eating–>meltdown) but there’s no way to know whether the meltdown is actually caused by your child’s hunger since you can’t get inside your child’s tummy.
Possibilitiy A: Your child is so hungry he can’t think straight. Hence the meltdown.
Possibility B: Your child is hungry, but wants something different to eat, and she knows from past experiences that behaving badly gets her what she wants.
Possibility C: Your child is not hungry but wants to eat and he knows that behaving badly gets you to produce snacks.
Possibility D: Your child is not hungry but is just behaving badly. When you produce the snacks you distract her from the tantrum and calm is restored.
This is just one of the things that makes parenting kids around food soooo difficult.
Since you can’t know whether you’re dealing with Possibility A, B, C, or D, the only solution is structure. And a couple of lessons.
Structure, i.e. rules that lay the foundation for what and when food is eating, is necessary because it makes food and eating predictable for your kids.
- I suggest you implement both the Rotation Rule and the Eating Zones Rule.
- Here is a post on the importance of structure: Why Kids Fight With You Over Food.
- The more regular your child’s hunger meltdowns the more you need structure.
And here’s one last radical thought: One important lesson even small children can (and need to learn) is how to soothe themselves in the face of the hunger meltdown.
After all, most young children can’t really eat when they’re upset anyway.
There’s no reason not to feed the child who has the one-off hunger-induced meltdown, but doing it on a regular basis sets up the wrong habits, both for now and for a lifetime of healthy eating.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~