A gentleman by the name of Max wrote a blog post commenting on one of my own. (Thank you Max, by the way. It was a great article!) At the end of the article he mentioned something I’ve heard come up lately and people have asked my opinion on it. The issue is sending your children to bed without dinner.
Author’s note: I find it, and I’m not sure why, less polite to use the word “kid” instead of “children” or “child.” However, since I seem to be writing about them a lot lately, I’m going to simply state that I’m using the word “kid” because I don’t feel like typing the extra five characters every time I mention it. Hope that’s ok…
I guess there is probably more than one approach to this question. Qualifying questions have to be asked, such as “What is the reason for sending your kid to bed without dinner?” Is it because they didn’t want what you cooked for dinner or was it for actual punishment for some misdeed?
The sad thing is, parents across the nation seem to be split on this matter. In my completely-non-official research I see three camps of parents.
- 20% Oh God no, that’s child abuse.
- 20% Dang right I’d send my kids to bed without dinner.
- 60% I’m not sure if I can legally do that or if someone from social services will come take my kid.
Sad, isn’t it? It’s a shame that most parents I’ve heard from are actually scared to use this as a parenting tool because they’re not even sure if it’s legal! Wow.
IS IT OK to send your child to bed without dinner?
Let’s start first with the law, because I don’t like people who haven’t read child abuse laws trying ignorantly to throw them back in my face. According to the best legal definitions I can find from the ”Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect” from the Child Welfare Information Gateway, which I can only assume to be the current “law of the land” on the subject, the answer is YES. You certainly CAN legally do this (at least where I live. Your mileage may vary)
Specifically you can locate the document itself at:
The PDF file is currently listed as being last updated as of February 2011.
Since I live in North Carolina, I’m only able to cite the specific reference for my own state, but all the states laws are located within that document, so you can easily find your state’s regulations there as well.
The NC statute on the issue states:
North Carolina Physical Abuse Citation: Gen. Stat. § 7B-101 ‘Abused juvenile’ means any child younger than age 18 whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver: • Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child a serious physical injury by other than accidental means • Creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to the child by other than accidental means • Uses or allows to be used upon the child cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures or cruel or grossly inappropriate devices to modify behavior Neglect Citation: Gen. Stat. § 7B-101 ‘Neglected juvenile’ means a child: • Who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from his or her parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver • Who is not provided necessary medical or remedial care • Who lives in an environment injurious to his or her welfare • Who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law In determining whether a child is a neglected juvenile, it is relevant whether that child lives in a home where another child has been subjected to abuse or neglect by an adult who regularly lives in the home. ‘Serious neglect’ means conduct, behavior, or inaction of the juvenile’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver that evidences a disregard of consequences of such magnitude that the conduct, behavior, or inaction constitutes an unequivocal danger to the juvenile’s health, welfare, or safety, but does not constitute abuse.
So, nowhere in that definition of child abuse do I see the mention of the word “food.” Before you start yelling, go read the document. Many states DO mention food in their statutes. North Carolina isn’t one of them.
The beginning definition located on page 3 of the document, seems to be a little vague. It states:
"Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Approximately 24 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands include failure to educate the child as required by law in their definition of neglect.6 Seven States specifically define medical neglect as failing to provide any special medical treatment or mental health care needed by the child.7 In addition, four States define medical neglect as the withholding of medical treatment or nutrition from disabled infants with life-threatening conditions."
I’m going to point out what I consider to be two important caveats in that definition.
- It seems kind of slimy to use the words “Frequently defined” in a document that’s supposed to explain something clearly. However, as I read the document through, I saw that some states DO and some states do NOT have certain mentioned stipulations in their codes. Food is one of those. I showed you the NC statute earlier, but you can read the others yourself. California, for example, does have a line that includes the definition to be “the willful, prolonged failure to provide adequate food. (I‘ll also state that skipping a meal, in my parenting definition, isn’t covered under that caveat.)
- It would seem to me, if I restructured that sentence to discuss only food, it would read “the failure of a parent to provide needed food to the degree that the child’s well-being is threatened with harm.” Again, I don’t think missing a meal is defined as threatening my child’s well being.
WHEN is it acceptable to send a kid to bed without dinner.
There were a few rules about dinner when I was growing up. These rules applied at my mom’s house, my dad’s house, my aunt’s house, and my grandparent’s house. Those rules were:
- Take what you want and eat what you take.
- You will eat what I cook or you’ll go hungry.
That was basically it. The first rule was because we kids often had bigger eyeballs than stomachs, at least that’s how I remember it being explained to me. I saw that heaping pile of spaghetti and garlic bread and I wanted a whole plate full and then wanted to try to steal garlic bread so my brother wouldn’t get the “good” pieces. My parent’s broke me of that habit quickly.
Once I was old enough to be able to serve myself at the table it was an easy lesson to learn. The first time I grabbed a plate full of something I feasibly couldn’t possibly finish I didn’t understand that I was depriving the rest of my family of food they very well could eat. I was just a kid who wanted a plate full of food. Money was tight and my family didn’t have it to throw away, so what we cooked was important and what was wasted on my plate could very well have been lunch the next day if I hadn’t wasted it at dinner.
I remember saying “Mom, I’m full” and she looked at me and said “No, you’re not” and kept right on eating. She made the point to me that since I served it, I was going to eat it. Further, I could choose to sit right there and eat my meal and not whine about it OR I could go to my room for the rest of the night and it would STILL be there come breakfast time.
Now, to be honest, I actually don’t think I ever tested that particular theory. Maybe I did. If so, Mom might chime in on this post and share the truth with everyone. lol.
The point is; it didn’t take me long to figure out I could just serve myself less and then always get more if I wanted it. It’s a real simple lesson in sharing and not being greedy and it’s stuck with me all my life. My kids follow the same rules. If you put it on your plate, you’re going to sit at the table and eat it or you’re going to sit there until you fall asleep face first in it… then you can have it when you wake up. lol. If you don’t eat your dinner, you don’t get dessert. Simple basic rules.
There were times as well that my parents would cook something I didn’t like, or wasn’t in the mood for. I’d throw a temper-tantrum and say “I’m not eating _fill_in_food_here” and they’d quickly say something similar to “You’ll eat what’s put on the table, or you won’t eat.”
I actually remember puffing up my chest a few times and screaming “Fine!” and walking away. They sent me to my room and I stayed there…. all….. night. Truthfully it was probably only five minutes into their dinner that I decided I really DID want to have eaten dinner with them. Sorry. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to jail…
It only took a few times before I got the hint that maybe if I asked Mom or Dad BEFORE they started cooking dinner, what we were having, and if I asked politely, I might have the opportunity to convince them to cook something I wanted. But when you walk in the kitchen halfway through Mom cooking lasagna and then whining that you wanted chicken, well, too late bud. Suck it up! You can have chicken tomorrow. Only now, as a parent myself, do I know how irritating it is to go grocery shopping for something, spend time making something, only to have one of your kids whine because they’d rather have fish sticks!
So…. I’m sorry Mom, for all the times I know I did that. I know now what you were going through.
My own related story – from about two weeks ago:
It’s amazing to me how a kid can be “full” then be ready to gobble down a gut full of ice cream ten minutes later. I’ve seen my son say “I’m soooo full” then pat his belly and say “Oh, I just don’t think I can eat another bite.” Amazingly one of us can say thirty seconds later – I think I want a brownie and BOOM the monster appetite is back in full force!
So the other night this happened. My son had just eaten enough to feed a starving Somali village and yet asked for more, and a REALLY large amount more. I tried to stop him and said “You’ll never eat all that – don’t get so much”
His response was typical.. “Uh huh. I can too!” About three minutes later a comment about dessert was made. Then all of the sudden.. he’s full to the brim of dinner and can’t stomach another bite. (coincidence right?)
We told him, you can have dessert when you finish that huge plate you just served yourself…. or you can sit there and stare at it until it’s cold, or you can get up from the table now and you can finish it for breakfast instead….
You should have seen the look on his face! His master plan was ruined! lol. Guess what though? I bet we’ll only have to pull that trick two or three times to correct that behavior.
The next time he’ll either eat all his food and not waste the rest, or he’ll eat until he’s almost full on the bet that maybe one of us will make brownies, cookies, or something similar for dessert. Either way, it’s a win-win for our family and an object lesson.
The OTHER reason to send your kids to bed without dinner.
I would think the other reason for a normal parent to send their kids to bed without dinner would be as punishment for some other action or misdeed. Have I ever done this? Not that I can think of, but I would if I felt the need was there.
The day my now-famous-daughter came home – the day of the “He shot the laptop” incident, was almost one of those days. She came home and I sent her to her room. When it came time for dinner I felt bad eating without her and called her to eat. My wife was out in the field working still at 8:30 so we had to go ahead and whip something together without her. My daughter and I both ate in miserable silence and then I sent her back to her room. Was that being a wimp? I don’t think so. Would it have been wrong if I’d kept her in her room to miss dinner? I don’t think so either. I just didn’t in that particular scenario.
If my kids did something bad enough that I thought deserved a severe punishment, but that I felt didn’t warrant a spanking, sending them to bed without dinner would be a good alternative in my book.
At the end of the day, missing a meal isn’t child abuse. That’s my take on it.
So.. one more time.. I’d like YOUR view on it.
Have a good day y’all.