A 'disturbing' practice: Parents beating stuffed animals to scare kids into eating
One parenting consultant said it’s “disturbing" that some parents have been beating stuffed teddy bears in front of their children.
Some parents have been posting videos of themselves hitting the stuffed animals of children who refuse to eat -- as a way to coerce or intimidate them into taking a bite.
A Twitter video that has gone viral since it was posted last week, shows a child refusing to eat a certain food. The adult then offers the food to a stuffed toy that also “refuses” to eat. That’s when the toy gets punched.
In other videos released around the same time, the children do end up eating the food, but appear to be shocked or distressed. Some parents laugh and look surprised when the tactic appears to work.
Early childhood consultant Julie Romanowski called the practice “disturbing” and calls it “more of a psychological punishment.”
“To have anybody beating anything for any reason is a hard ‘no’ when it comes to children,” she told CTVNews.ca over the phone, stressing that “kids absorb everything” role models, such as parents, do.
“I would think that a majority of children would probably think, ‘Oh gosh, that’s coming to me next or one day,’” Romanowski explained.
Many people online have also criticized the videos, with one person tweeting, “some people will do anything for 15 minutes of fame — but at the expense of a baby?? Lower than low."
Another person tweeted “we talk all the time about perpetuating a culture of violence with young people landing in jail. This is where it starts." Another user, “he didn't hurt the kid but it was still in a way a threat. There's better ways to try and get your child to eat."
Although, the recent outrage stems from one video, similar tactics have been used before. A Facebook video posted in May showed a mother using a similar tactic, writing, “I had to try this.” And before that, in November, a similar tactic was used in a YouTube video titled “How Mother give food to her child.”
Romanowski criticized the fear-based approach in all the videos for communicating that, “if you don’t do what I say, something bad is going to happen to you, your teddy or whatever.”
Romanowski said parents who use the tactic also send children the message that hurting someone is ok, when you want to compel them to do something. Because the aggressive tactics can be internalized by impressionable young children, Romanowski called the tactic the “foundational basis of bullying.”
She explained parents shouldn’t be surprised if their child exhibits similar aggressive behaviour as they grow up. “The long-term effects are huge and it’s a very negative impact,” she said.
PRINCIPLE SIMILAR TO SO-CALLED ‘WHIPPING BOYS’
The psychological principle of hurting or inflicting pain on something a child loves in order to motivate them is not new.
For example, the tactic is reminiscent of so-called “whipping boys,” a term that dates back to the mid-17th century. They were children, educated alongside young princes, who were allegedly beaten or punished for the royals’ transgressions, although there’s only scant evidence of confirmed historical examples.
Romanowski empathizes with parents who become frustrated at mealtimes, but encourages them to try a different tactic.
“Children learn through positive role modelling, repetition, being guided -- not forced or punished,” she said.
She said what helps is setting clear expectations to children, such as outlining to a child that if it’s a new food, they have to eat at least part of it.
Romanowski also advised parents communicate clearly with the child that even if they dislike the food, they need to eat it to be healthy.
She also added that after every meal, parents should tell parts of the child’s behaviour they liked or didn’t like including how the child reacts to food they dislike.