Fatherly Advice: Don’t Force Kids to Eat or Feel Obligated to Buy Baby Shoes

Dinner time should be a time of fun for the family, not a struggle to the death that leaves everyone crying in their mashed potatoes.

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“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.



I have a boy in Kindergarten who is a really bad eater. He’s super picky and won’t eat anything that isn’t a French fry or in nugget form. This has made meals at the table unbearable for pretty much everyone in the house. Should I be forcing my kid to eat better or just give up?

Cleveland, Ohio


Guess what, Ian? This is the only time when I feel completely confident in telling a parent to give up. You should absolutely stop forcing your kid to try and eat. It isn’t working and it won’t work and it’s pointless. Instead of thinking about food, you need to think about nutrition.

There is a common refrain among pediatric dietitians: Your job as a parent is to make your child a well-balanced, nutritious meal and bring it to the table. Your kid’s job is to eat it, or not. The point is that you have done your job the second you place the meal in front of your kid. And you know what? It should be the same meal everyone else is eating.

I get it. It’s scary when a kid doesn’t eat. But here’s the thing: Kids are not going to starve themselves or become malnourished. Eventually, they will try what you’ve given them. Eventually. Most dietitians agree that a child might need to be exposed to a food at least 20 times before they finally try it. Is this annoying? Absolutely. Is it life-threatening? Nope.

Ian, you expertly explained why hassling your kid to eat is a bad idea: The struggle makes meals unbearable. And in some cases, children who are harassed to eat become even more defiant. So, the better idea is to plop down the plate and have a good time. Play a game. Talk about the day. Laugh.

If you are truly worried about your kid starving themselves, put something on their plate at every meal that you know they like — a piece of fruit or a favorite vegetable. And once in a while, let them take the lead in planning the menu. Better yet, let them help you shop and cook for the meal. Kids have a tendency to be more likely to eat food that they had a hand in purchasing, growing, or cooking.

Which is all to say, Ian, that you can totally give up forcing your kid to eat. But you’re probably going to have to work a little harder to make dinner a damn good time.



The nurses showed me how to swaddle my baby girl when I was at the hospital. Then I came home and watched a couple of YouTube videos. But my swaddle skills must be really weak because my girl keeps breaking out of them. Is she just super strong?

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma


It’s unlikely that you’re raising She-Hulk, Tesch, but you never know. Those gamma rays can be pretty tricky! It’s more likely that you’re making one or two common swaddling mistakes.

As you’re building your baby burrito, you make sure you have the right sized … uh … tortilla. Which is to say that you need a swaddling cloth (or blanket) that is at least 40 inches by 40 inches. This will give you enough fabric to wrap and tuck around your kid.

When you’re doing that wrapping and tucking, you need to make sure that your girl’s arms are down by her sides. Yes, babies are notoriously wiggly, but they are also pretty weak, so you should not have trouble keeping her arms down. A technique I often employed was keeping a hand on my kids’ abdomen and trapping their hands with my outstretched pinky and thumb (one little hand under each) while wrapping the first corner of the swaddle around them with the other hand. Awkward? Sure. But it helps.

Don’t be afraid to make that swaddle tight. That’s the whole point of the swaddle. It should be tight around the shoulders and the arms and loose around the feet. The idea is to make it as womb-like as possible. And believe me, those last few weeks in the womb were pretty damn constricting.

If your kid is determined to break out, you can opt to keep her arm free of the swaddle completely. Some kids get enough of the tight comfort they crave when the swaddle is just wrapped around their chest, under their little armpits. And finally, there is no shame in purchasing a sleep sack. They are way easier and often harder for a kid to break out of. Unless you are, in fact, raising She-Hulk, in which case you’re screwed.


Hey, Fatherly

My boy has started pulling himself up on the couch and cruising. My wife’s mom told her that we should buy him shoes to make walking easier as he learns how. Is that true?

Burbank, California


Mothers-in-law are super important to have around, but that doesn’t mean they have all the facts. And in this case, your mother-in-law is totally wrong. You can tell her I said so.

Babies who are cruising, and on the way to walking independently, should mostly remain unshod. There’s a good reason for this. In order to develop the natural walking gait, the muscles of their feet need to flex and move and strengthen. More than that, the soles of their feet need to be exposed to different textures. The experience of these textures is what helps their brain connect to the nerve endings in their feet and track where their pegs are in space. Knowing where your body parts are in space is called proprioception. It’s hugely valuable in developing balance.

That said, there are times when you might want your kid to have shoes. If they’re practicing outside, you’ll want to have something on their feet if the weather is too cold or hot. A soft leather shoe will also protect them from thorns, sharp stones, or bee stings. You may also want to have some snazzy kicks for pictures (that you can send to your mother-in-law). But other than that a kid is fine without shoes.

If your wife over-rules you, there are some shoe guidelines. The soles should not be firm and flat. Instead, they should be soft and flexible. They should also be grippy to prevent sliding. You can even opt for socks with rubberized soles that “look” like shoes.

It’s possible that your mother-in-law is mourning for a time when baby shoes were bronzed as mementos of babyhood. If that’s the case, give her one of your kid’s old pacifiers and tell her to go to town.

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