Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Food sharing — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
My daughter is 2. Ever since she started eating “grown-up” food, she has asked for some off my or my husband’s plate. It doesn’t matter if it’s scrambled eggs or roasted eggplant. Since we would probably all get colds at the same time anyway, I can’t really see a reason not to indulge this sweet request. (My husband and I shared off each other’s plates while we were dating.) I’m wondering if this will be a hard habit to break. I would think this is not socially acceptable at some point.
All in the Family
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Dear All in the Family,
There are many ways to “baby” someone, and eating off someone else’s plate is a privilege that some might say only babies and lovers should share. Socially acceptability aside, the Mayo Clinic reminds us to wash hands often and to avoid sharing utensils to reduce the spread of cold germs. Such health and hygiene habits are best instilled in early childhood.
On the other hand, since family germs tend to find their way around the house anyway, sharing food is a nice way to express intimacy and, as you have seen and naturally supported, encourages young children to enjoy the foods their parents are eating. What you are doing around the family table sounds very cozy. Saves time and effort, too, since it’s sometimes hard to predict what and how much a young child will eat.
Setting your family standards for food sharing is a matter of comfort, just as with sharing a bed or your household’s policies on bathroom privacy. You can have different standards when company is over, maybe even depending on the company. But the best policy is a consistent one — with consistent exceptions. By the same token, you alter your family policies depending on children’s ages. Eating off another person’s plate may come to an end when a child starts school or child care because teachers must be very strict about this — not just for germs, but for potentially deadly food sensitivities and allergies. As with the seat belt rule — which is followed 100 percent of the time even though it is extremely unlikely that your car will crash — the no sharing food rule works best when it is followed 100 percent of the time. A person can be contagious up to 3 days before symptoms appear, so the innocent “Ooh, doesn’t this look tasty? Let’s share!” could have you sharing more than food.
You and your husband can decide the age at which your daughter no longer requires being “babied” in this way. Then explain and stick to your new policy. Changing a habit is not really that hard if everyone is on the same page.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com