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Children And Force Feeding

( Originally Published 1916 )

IT was the last day of school, and Edith had gone to her friend's house for the afternoon. When she came home, it was with a glow of excitement. Martha was to spend a week with her aunt in the country-and Edith was invited to " come with." Edith's mother had several good reasons in her mind for not allowing Edith to go with Martha, and she felt that she could not tell the most important ones to the child. So she told some, and left the rest to her authority.

But of course Edith was not satisfied. She really wanted very much to go. And from teasing her mother to change her mind she worked herself into a state of resentment, not unmixed perhaps with rage. So it came about that when dinner was served, the little girl was in anything but an amiable mood, and she announced sullenly that she did not wish to eat. This brought the father upon the scene.

He was not concerned with the details of the events that led up to the rebellion. It was his business to maintain the dignity of the established order of domes-tic ceremonials, and to uphold the authority of the mother in exercising her discretion in affairs of moment. " What, not eat? " he cried, in a voice suited to his part. " What nonsense is this? She must eat!"

Edith sat at her place. She sipped at the soup. She chewed mechanically at the food placed before her.

She nibbled at the dessert without enthusiasm. And throughout the meal there was silence while the feelings were estranged and the minds wandered from the immediate business of the hour.

Now the results of many investigations and experiments made by scientists would lead us to conclude that a meal eaten as was this one, represents a quantity of good food gone for waste. Nobody enjoyed the taste or the flavor, nobody appreciated the effort to make the table and settings attractive, and so far as nourishment is concerned, it would seem that the child especially would have been better off without the meal.

For these experiments show that whereas the flow of digestive juices and the vigor of the muscular action in the digestive organs are both increased by pleasant emotions, they are both retarded when the feelings are too deeply stirred. And when there is anger or worry or fear, both the glands and the muscles of the digestive organs may stop work altogether. Under these circumstances the food remains in the stomach only to cause distress later.

In this particular case, it would have been the part of wisdom for Edith's mother to separate her momentous decision—momentous for the child—as much as possible from the impending meal. It is true that in so many households the people see each other very little except in the neighborhood of meal-time. But for this very reason we should reserve for the meetings the most cheerful and stimulating of the day's topics and problems. In any case, the disagreeable and the depressing should be removed from the danger zone.

It often happens that disagreeable decisions must be made. And they will, of course, affect the child's mood unfavorably. But a mood cannot last very long; if the decision is made early enough, the nervous system may have time to regain its equilibrium before it is again time to eat. But should the distressing scene come too close to meal-time, so that the child has lost all appetite, it is better for him to forego the eating.

Of course there are other things to consider besides the child's feelings for the time being. It is important to maintain a certain regularity in the children's lives. There must be fixed times for many of the routine things. There is also much to be said for the moral value of " controlling " the feelings so that they do not break out at inopportune times to interfere with the programme, or with the convenience of others. But when all is said and done, it still remains true that in cases of extreme agitation it is best not to resort to forcible feeding.

With older children in fairly good health there is seldom an indisposition to eat at the usual time, except as a result of an emotional disturbance. But with younger children, who have not yet established the eating routine, the problem arises very frequently to perplex and distress the mother. Sometimes the child will refuse to eat this or that of what is offered. And sometimes the appetite will be so fickle that it seems impossible to fix regular hours for eating.

In the first case, no matter how desirable the spinach or beef-juice, that the child refuses to take, it is practically worthless if it is forced upon the child under circumstances that are agitating. You may wheedle or trick the child into taking it, you may disguise the food by combining it with something attractive, you may bribe the child or cajole him in any way your ingenuity suggests. But the moment you apply force and arouse resentment you bring about within the child conditions that tend to neutralize all the benefits of the special dish. It is better to let the child go hungry than to feed him by force. Children who are solicitously guarded are not in danger of suffering from a fast of several hours.

The same applies to the child whose refusal to eat at your time makes it impossible to fix regular habits. A mother who complained that her two-year-old could never be induced to eat admitted that she gave the child a cracker or some other trifle between meals. But on adopting the advice to give the child absolutely nothing except at meal-time, she was able in two days to develop a marvelous appetite three times a day.

Children must be fed; but force must not be used as an appetizer.

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