The Food Fighting Toddler: The internalized residue from the engagement of the developmental tasks of infancy continues to exert an influence throughout childhood and into the adult years. Many of the basic developmental issues that originated during infancy, such as the direct relationship between mother and food, spill over into the years between one and three. Propelled by locomotion, language and the drive for autonomy and independence, the docile infant disappears, suddenly replaced by that would-be master of the universe, the toddler. Feeding an infant can be dignified and restrained, like a Japanese tea ceremony. By contrast, watching a toddler feed him-or herself is akin to being caught in the crossfire of a food fight in a junior high school cafeteria. Food is accepted or refused with the exclamation “Me do it!” a clamped jaw, turned head, and inevitable messiness.
Strong food preferences appear overnight, associated with texture, temperature, and taste. Parents who understand will take heart and endure, recognizing that dirty floors, messy faces, and sticky fingers are the price to be paid for joyous eating. Today’s gourmand is tomorrow’s gourmet.
Adolescent Food Fads: In adolescence food fads, inconsistent attitudes toward eating and the rejection of favorite family recipes and togetherness at mealtime are all reflections of the tumultuous intra-psychic reshuffling that accompanies physical maturity and the breaking of childhood attachments to the parents.
Adults Eat for Nourishment and Pleasure: A balanced diet maintains body integrity. Sharing food with friends and loves ones continues to be an intimate experience, resonating with the bio-psychological rapport that existed between mother and child in the dawn of life. The mature adult effortlessly meshes past attitudes and current realities about food, transforming eating into a non-conflictual, highly pleasurable experience.
The importance of a healthy, solid beginning in life to is not lost on the mental health professional who knows from experience that the sickest patients usually have had very chaotic and troubled childhoods. Conversely, healthy individuals were usually blessed with physical health and strong environmental support during their early years. The seeds of maturity are planted in the rich, nourishing soil of a healthy infancy. In early childhood those seeds begin to sprout.