Getting a child to eat often causes great friction between parent and child.
This “problem” starts sometime around 6 months of age and may continue till the child is several years old.
The impression one gets is that there are some children who can survive for days without any food intake. They continue to be active and energetic. The moment food is offered, they either complain of stomach pain, or feel as if they want to vomit.
As a paediatrician, we check for any underlying medical problems preventing the child from eating. We chart the weight and height to make sure that they are within the normal range for the child.
It is reassuring if the examination as well as the growth of the child is normal.
Here are a few points to consider:
when a child says that he / she is not hungry, they are telling the truth.
If we ignore their protest, overpower and force feed them, the message conveyed is
"we are not interested in listening to you, even though you are telling the truth "
"you will do as I say and you have to eat even if you are not hungry",
"I am more powerful than you and I will have my way"
Encourage but do not force children to eat. Avoid punishment.
The parent decides the menu and the child decides how much to eat.
A normal healthy person is only able to consume a certain number of calories in the diet to meet the daily requirements.
Avoid food substitutes such as Pediasure. In India it seems to be given with the mistaken belief that it might somehow add to the calories and nutrition of the child. On the contrary, it actually supplies all the energy and kills the child's appetite for the food prepared by the parent.
Make sure your child does not fill up the stomach on water or drinks before the meal.
Eating should be enjoyable and a happy occasion. Force feeding turns it into a battle. Nurture becomes Torture, Nourishment becomes punishment. Forcing the issue may make the child even more resistant to eating.
Keep meal times consistent. There should be a gap of at least 3 hours between two meals. This prevents the parent from nagging the child often and for the child to know when food will be available.
A representative daily schedule could be -
break fast at 7am
snack at 10am
lunch at 1pm
snacks at 5pm
dinner at 9pm
Keep mealtimes free of distractions. No TV, laptops, smartphones or DVDs.
Eat together as a family whenever possible. Many children will eat better if other people around them are also eating. Children have the opportunity to watch and learn from their parents and often eat from their parents plate.
I am sure there are other ways of approaching this issue. I would like to hear from you.