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Last updated on May 5, 2021

How does your parenting style affect the way that you help feed your child? What kind of a difference does it make in your child's relationship with food?

In the previous part of my Doctor Evka podcast episode (#026), I asked you to do a quiz to see if you were more of a permissive or an authoritarian parent.  Which part of the spectrum do you fall into in general?  Now let’s bring this conversation back to the realm of feeding.  Do you think that you have more of an authoritarian or a permissive style when it comes to helping your child to feed?

Let’s do the same quiz.  This time, I want you to imagine yourself at the mealtime table with your child.  I’m going to ask you if you agree with a set of particular statements.  There will be four statements in total.  For each statement, ask yourself, “Do I agree with this?”  If you do agree, assign that statement a number:  one.  If you do not agree, assign that statement the number zero.  You do not count up the number of statements with which you disagree.   Just count up the number of statements with which you agree.  All I want to know is whether you are more permissive as a parent or more authoritarian.   Are you ready? 

1.  I ask my child to eat food in a certain order.  Vegetables come before dessert. 

2.  I ask my child to have at least one of every food. 

3.  I ask my child to have at least four bites of a certain food before they can have a more preferred food.

4.  I make my child eat almost all of their plate. 

Did you tally up your scores as we went through this exercise?  The closer to the number 4 that you got, the more likely you are to fall more on the authoritarian side of parenting when it comes to feeding your child.  You tend to be more demanding of what the child eats and how much of it they eat.  The closer to the number 0 that you got, the more likely you are to fall more on the permissive side of feeding your child.   You demand less of your children than the other parent we mentioned.

Now think about your results for the first quiz as opposed to the second.  Were the results the same?  Were you more of a permissive parent in general?  How about an authoritarian parent?  Were your results the same for each quiz?  They might not have been.

We can act a certain way around our child in general.  Then when it comes to feeding our child, we might act a completely different way entirely.   The way that we behave around our children can be quite complex, and there can be so many different factors that go into it. 

Just being aware of this different may make you more mindful of what you are doing at the mealtime table when it comes to feeding your child.  You see, the authoritarian parent might wind up with a child who acts a specific way during the teenage years and in adulthood.  In the same way, the permissive parent also tends to raise a specific type of teenager and adult.  How we approach food with our young children may make a difference in how they approach food for the rest of their lives.   Profound statement!  Let’s discuss it.  

Let’s talk more about the different styles of parenting:  authoritative, authoritarian, uninvolved, and permissive.  Let’s discuss it in terms of what the children of parents with these parenting styles might experience. Let’s share some stories of what their lives were like as they got older.


Twenty year old Becky looks back at her life and says, “I hate criticism.  I hate believing that there is something wrong with me.“ Becky describes her parents as being strict and stern.  She did not get a lot of positive feedback from them while she was growing up.  She remembers getting yelled at for all kinds of things!  At mealtime, for instance, unless she finished just about all of the food on her plate, she was not allowed to leave the table.  She ate slowly, and her parents grew increasingly annoyed as they sat waiting for her to finish a meal.  If she ate way too slowly, she was punished. Even if the reason for the slow eating was that she was already too full and could not imagine stuffing another bite into her mouth, she would still face her parents’ wrath.  They almost expected her not to listen to her body because the way that she wanted to eat was not the “right” way.  Instead, when it came to eating, she was expected to follow certain rules that were given to her by someone else.  She learned to hate that level of control and decided to rebel against it when she was older.  If her parents really wanted her to eat vegetables, as she got older, she would refuse them. She actually liked the taste of vegetables, but being coerced made vegetables feel intolerable. 


Nineteen year old Tina thinks, “When I was growing up, the expectations that my parents had of me were low.  They were gentle and affectionate, but they had few rules for how I should behave.  Take meals, for instance.  I could basically eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. As a young child, that basically mean that all day, I was grazing on junk food.”   Tina has plenty of dental cavities from all of those days full of eating candy while inadequately brushing her teeth.  She also has some difficulty figuring out when she is hungry versus when she is full because she does not remember set mealtimes and allowing her stomach to get empty.  Plus she lovingly longs for shared family meals which she doesn’t feel that she got much of when she was growing up.      

Can you see how the parenting style affected each child’s relationship around food?  Whether we are talking about authoritarian parenting or permissive parenting, there was something missing in the relationship. 

To me, one of the best types of parenting is more authoritative.  Let me describe it briefly, and we will spend future episodes discussing how authoritative parenting translates to feeding. 

Authoritative parenting is kind of like this.  A parent with an authoritative style would say things like.

*I take my child’s wants into consideration before I ask them to do something.

*I explain the reason why I want my child to do something.

*I am responsive to my child’s needs and feelings.

*I explain to my child how I feel about their behavior.

*I compliment my child and tell them that I love them.

*I respect my child’s opinions and encourage them to tell me what those opinions are.

Authoritative parenting is a mixture of both authoritarian and permissive parenting. 

OK… Does this help?  What kind of parenting style do you think that you have? 

Regardless of the style of parenting, all of these parenting styles are multifaceted and complex.  Also, parenting styles are fluid within a particular parent.  Your parenting style might shift.  It might not be the same in every aspect of your child’s behavior.    

Three "legal" things:  First, either a male or a female could consider themselves to be a mother.  My job is to serve and not to judge.  Second, although I am a family physician, I am not your doctor or therapist.   Please see your and your child's doctor.  Third, the information presented here is for educational purposes only.  It does not constitute professional medical advice.