Should You Send Your Child to Bed Hungry?

a child that wants to eat

We have all heard of children being sent to bed without dinner as punishment.

Forcing a child to sleep while they’re hungry may seem like a way to manage a bad attitude when all else fails. It can also seem like a form of child abuse. Which is it?

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Should You Send Your Child to Bed Hungry?

Sending a child to bed without dinner has been proven to be an ineffective way to punish them. Seek other forms of punishment when necessary, but never force your child to be hungry. The exception may be for children who simply refuse to eat or those who have medical reasons for an empty stomach.

3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Send Your Child to Bed Hungry

a child rubbing her belly

I grew up in poverty, which means there were plenty of times I went to sleep hungry. It wasn’t a punishment but sometimes a sad necessity.

Choosing to inflict that kind of pain is not the way to get through to a child.

1. Hunger as Punishment Doesn’t Work

Simply put, withholding food from a child doesn’t reverse bad behavior. Psychologists have found that hunger translates more to resentment than it does to improvement.

Children treated this way may learn that there are consequences to their actions, but they might not learn why their behavior needs to change.

2. Withholding Food Can Lead to Eating Disorders

Children can easily learn unhealthy habits from their parents. Sending them to bed hungry may cause them to overeat when food is offered. Children may start hoarding food as well.

Withholding food regularly might cause them to lose the ability to regulate hunger. It can also cause children to associate food with guilt, which can lead to bulimia or anorexia.

3. Children Need to be Taught Healthy Habits

The primary goal for any good parent needs to be teaching their kids how to grow into healthy, responsible adults.

Learning healthy habits means eating the right foods at the right times. Children need ample nutrition every day. Parents should not take away food as punishment anymore than they would take away medical care or oxygen.

Instead of sending a child to bed without dinner, consider another option. Tell them they must go straight to bed after their meal is complete or take away another favorite item.

My preference is to remove screen time. A child without a tablet or a phone is a child who rethinks their choices.

Going to Bed Hungry Can be Necessary

Sometimes taking away food is necessary for medical reasons. One of my children has had three surgeries starting at age eight.

Each time, we had to withhold food for the evening before he could have surgery. He felt as though he was being punished and didn’t fully understand why. It was hard to explain to him, but it had to happen.

Medical procedures and health issues may cause you to keep your child from eating. If this happens, fully explain to them the reason why they can’t eat and when they will be able to eat again.

If necessary, have your child’s doctor talk to them to explain that they have done nothing wrong to cause food to be withheld.

What About Children Who Won’t Eat?

Parents who have picky eaters or refuse-to-eaters live in a state of frustration.

There are different methods to manage these kids. This ranges from giving them whatever food they want so they’ll eat to telling them if they don’t eat within 30 minutes, they won’t eat at all.

It’s reasonable to send a child to bed hungry if they choose not to eat.

The latter was never my choice as a parent. Instead, I made the child sit at the dinner table until enough food was eaten that they wouldn’t have hungry bellies.

They never had to clean their plates; they simply had to eat something.

There were nights when a child had to sit alone at the table for three hours before the food was eaten. Their punishment was missing out on fun times between dinner and bed. It was never a lack of food.

What Parenting Tactic Have You Used?

Have you ever considered sending your child to bed hungry? What made you make this decision?

Have you found it to be a viable punishment, or are you looking for new tactics to improve their behavior? Tell us your story in the comments.

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Frequently Asked Questions

A toddler could go to bed hungry, but they’re probably going to have a hard time going to sleep. Make sure your young child doesn’t go to bed hungry to avoid any sleep problems.

Make sure your child gets adequate food and nutrition to avoid any child food insecurity issues. A child may occasionally refuse to eat a meal, but long-term appetite issues will require the intervention of a trained medical professional.