If you want your kids to behave more like angels and less like little devils at the table, a new study from the US suggests you should try swapping the chicken leg or corn on the cob for small, cut-up pieces of food they can pick up with a fork and chew.
Apparently, kids are more socially aggressive and disobedient when they have to hold and bite their food than when they can use utensils and chew it, say researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
Writing in the journal Eating Behaviors, lead author Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and colleagues describe how they found kids aged 6 to 10 were much rowdier when given foods they had to bite with their front teeth - such as corn on the cob, drumsticks and whole apples - than when these foods had been cut up.
"They were twice as likely to disobey adults and twice as aggressive toward other kids," says Prof. Wansink.
The researchers suggest, as seen in animals, using teeth to bite food may be connected to aggressive behavior.
For their study, the team observed 12 elementary children for 2 days during a 4-H summer camp.
Researchers say that encouraging a child to eat small bite-sized food with a fork, rather than food they have to pick up and bite, may lead to better behavior at the dinner table.
On the first day, they arranged for half the children to sit at a picnic table where they were served with chicken on the bone that they had to bite into with their front teeth.
The other six children sat at another table nearby and were served with boneless chicken cut into bite-sized pieces.
On the second day, they swapped the children over. On both days, they also asked the camp counselors to instruct the children to remain inside a 9-foot radius perimeter around the table.
The researchers filmed both groups eating on both days and then invited trained coders to evaluate the children's behaviors in terms of aggressiveness and compliance and any boisterous or rowdy behavior, such as jumping or standing on the tables.
Children were less compliant when given food to bite
The results showed that children behaved twice as aggressively when given chicken on the bone to eat as when they were given bite-sized pieces. They were also twice as likely to disobey adults.
In addition, when given food they had to bite, the children left the circle without permission more frequently and were more likely to engage in boisterous behavior.Prof. Wansink explains the team's findings further in the video below:
Prof. Wansink says the bottom line of their study is if you want to sit down to "a nice quiet, relaxing meal with your kids, cut up their food." He says encouraging them to eat with utensils is a small step to better behaved kids.
However, children do need opportunities where they can let off steam, and no more so than during the school day.
In a new policy statement issued in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasized the importance of school recesses for children and adolescents. They give schoolchildren physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits when it is safe and properly supervised, they noted.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD