“You have to clean up your plate”. These are familiar words that you may have heard parents say to their kids; either in your family or at a restaurant or a friend’s house. With the prevalence of childhood and adult obesity, researchers are looking into factors which play a role in children’s relationship with food. A target that researchers are looking into is the “Parenting style and feeding style” within the home.

Eating habits are formed during the first years of life. The first five years of life are a time of rapid physical development in children. And these are the years when eating behaviors and eating patterns are shaped. During these early years, children learn what, when, and how much to eat based on what they see in their immediate surrounding; usually family. This is different from one family to the next; and influenced by cultural and familial beliefs, attitudes, and practices surrounding food and eating. This may often be the same parenting style which the parents received while growing up. Whatever the case, it is important to get this right as these eating patterns learned during childhood are often carried into their adult life.

Parenting styles

In psychology today, there are four recognized parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive, Uninvolved and Authoritative parenting style.


A parenting style in which the parents make the rules and the children have no say. It is a parent centered role. “Clean your plate”… because I said so!


This is the complete opposite of the “authoritarian style”. They take on a child-centered role, and are generally undemanding while exerting a very low level of control over their children. “Yes you can have cookies for dinner if you like

Uninvolved style:

This parenting style is dormant. They have no clue about their children’s lifestyle or decisions.

Authoritative parenting style:

This is the preferred feeding style which is linked to positive health outcomes. These parents make rules but explain the reason behind their rules while giving the child some room to also make decisions.

“Would you like spinach or broccoli for dinner?” This allows the child to be involved in their meals and in decision making. However, the parent is giving healthy options and is in control of the choices. These parents are also more likely to listen when a child says he or she is satisfied. Children should be allowed to be responsive to hunger and satiety cues. This gives them a healthier relationship with food and an understanding of self-regulation. A clean plate should not be equated to better nutrition. Forcing a child to clean up a plate might cause them to associate food with stress. Even worse, they might have no self-discipline when it comes to dealing with food, leading to a high BMI or obesity in adulthood.

Why is this important?

In a study involving about 900 children, researchers discovered that kids whose mothers adopted an authoritarian or “controlling” parenting style had almost five times the risk of becoming overweight compared to children whose mothers had a more authoritative parenting style. Furthermore, children of permissive mothers were twice as likely to be overweight compared with children of authoritative parents.

However, it is important to note that these parenting styles may overlap. But having more of one or the other determines which style will have a more predominant effect on your child.

Parents should be enlightened on these feeding styles. While the focus these days seems to be on getting in as much food as possible into your child, this is not the best way of feeding. A child who is crossing the chart on the centile scale compared to his or her peers is not a sign of successful parenting. We need to promote a healthy lifestyle. Even more importantly, parents need to look at their own feeding style; which will very likely mirror your parenting style and highlights your behavior around food. Parents need to hold themselves accountable and realize that they have a strong influence on their children’s diet. If we all play our part, we will succeed in countering this Global health challenge – Obesity.

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