Parenting Article: Is Dinnertime a Problem in Your Home?

Does my son eat well at school? For the past few weeks we have been battling at the dinner table. He refuses to eat many of the foods that I know he has liked in the past, and he fools around for most of the mealtime.

Business as usual here. But of course I have a few thoughts…

Eating and potty training and the two areas where children exert their ultimate control.
These are the areas where we will never win, so it is wise to not ever engage in a power struggle here. Power struggles are not good anywhere – but they are particularly useless here.

I firmly believe that children will eat when they are hungry. They will eat what they like to eat. They will not eat when they are not hungry and they will not eat what they don’t like to eat. Our job is to offer good, healthy food in reasonable quantities, and to ever so mildly suggest they try a new food. Young children should eat 5 meals a day. You know all this; I’m just reminding you.

At school, when we serve a new food item and a child says “I don’t like that”, I just put a tiny piece on their plate. I tell them: “You don’t have to eat it, you can just look at it. Someday you might decide to try it, and you will find out that you like it.” Then I just move on and don’t mention it again. More often than not, after they have seen that food on their plate a few dozen times, they try it and find out that they like it. Then I just say: “I’m so glad that you tried it.” This could happen when a child is truly reluctant to try a new food, or because there are deeper issues.

When a child who feels a need to get attention or to exert power recognizes that meals are a power ticket, you can brace yourself for a battle…or you can put absolutely no emphasis on the subject (thereby diffusing the power struggle), and trust that it will work itself out eventually. Eventually may not be soon, but I believe it will occur.

The next thing you want to think about is a more appropriate way for Johnny to either gain attention or to exert his power because this is probably what the real problem is. Did anything change at home to make Johnny feel like he is not getting enough attention? Does Johnny have opportunities to experience success/power – with jobs and responsibilities? When you are able to answer these questions, hopefully you will have peace at the dinner table.

If you have questions or comments about this issue – or any others, please email me at

If you are interested in learning more about Positive Parenting (and topics such as the above), please contact me for info on my next workshop. My phone number is 769-7921 and email address is You are most welcome to send questions and comments also

Carolynn DiGiuseppi is a certified Montessori teacher with a Site Supervisor Permit and a Master Teacher’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. With over 35 years of experience caring for children, she is the Director of Carolynn’s Montessori for Toddlers in Petaluma.