I don’t have any kids of my own. I am not Dr. Spock. I haven’t read What To Expect When You’re Expecting. But I still think I have enough common sense to suggest that punching your small child’s beloved stuffed animal to coerce them into eating is, maybe, problematic.
And yet. Several videos that depict adults, presumably parents, violently punching their kids’ stuffed animals to “encourage” kids to eat at mealtime have racked up hundreds of thousands of shares. Exhibit A: This video from Twitter user @rudyhernandez_, depicting a man punching a Mickey Mouse doll in the face, captioned: “When kids don’t wanna eat... this is what you gotta do.” In a threaded tweet, he mentions the kid is his nephew. He also responds to the people who say the violence is traumatic and probably upsetting to the kid: “My nephew saying ‘cheese’ to all your negative comments on the video. He eats normally and is loved by his family. Mind your business and move on if you’re hurt.”
Exhibit B: This video, uploaded to Facebook, which is perhaps even more disturbing because the woman in the video appears to draw a parallel between the child’s refusal to eat and the stuffed animal’s refusal to eat, then slams the stuffed animal against a counter repeatedly.
I know everything is relative. I know these families likely love their children. But I just want to raise a few red flags about the conflation, in children’s minds, of food and violence and anxiety and fear. Emotional memories are powerful, and kids’ brains are sponges, right? While these techniques may achieve the end goal—getting kids to eat their meals—it seems there must be a less violent way to get there.
BuzzFeed News has the story of a father who responded to these videos with his own version, in which he uses the stuffed animal as positive, rather than negative, reinforcement. He uploaded a video to Twitter that shows his son feeding some food to a stuffed penguin, who the father says thinks the snack is yummy, which makes the kid more willing to try the food. Not saying that trick will work every time, but it’s got to be worth a shot before you start bashing Mickey Mouse’s face against a table.