How to Help Your Child Who Struggles With Eating
Kids and food. This combination should seem fairly straightforward. In reality, something as simple as eating can be quite difficult for many children and their families. From picky eating to food refusal and everything in between, kids can face a variety of challenges when it comes to eating.
As parents, we want nothing more than to see our kids thrive, and if our children are struggling with eating, this can be troublesome. Natural reactions can be to pressure kids to eat, offer bribes, or try to negotiate at mealtimes, and while well-intended, these types of behaviors can actually make it harder for a child to eat. These reactions often stem from fears that a child may not be eating well or getting adequate nutrition. Fear may also stem from a worry of not being a good parent if strict eating rules are not enforced.
Ultimately, we want to raise happy, healthy eaters who find food both nourishing and enjoyable. As mothers especially, I know that you want to end the mealtime battles and create more mental space for yourself by worrying less about food. The good news is that many childhood eating issues can be resolved. Kids are born with an intuitive ability to eat and for the most part, children are self-regulating in terms of how much food they need. When given the opportunity, they’ll eat exactly what they need in order to follow their own path.
If you have a child who struggles with eating, be encouraged. There are many ways that you can help support and empower your child toward a path of healthy eating. Check out these tips that you can begin implementing in your home and with your child:
Start With Family Meals
Family meals are the first and most important way to help create a lifetime of good eating habits and combat feeding struggles, like picky eating. Sit down with your kiddos to eat, and ideally eat the same meal together. Don’t worry about being perfect or doing it 100% - just do it when you can!
Encourage communication and dialogue
It’s easy to hyper-focus on food at mealtime, especially when you don’t see your child eating. Your child may be complaining about the food you serve, and you in turn, may begin to coax or nudge them and tell them all the reasons they should eat. This can actually deter a child from wanting to eat. Try having a conversation with your kids and family at meals times about anything but the food.
Keep mealtimes neutral and low-pressure
The less external pressure a child faces to eat, the more likely it is that they will be able to tune into and respond to their internal eating cues. Remember, kids do have the ability to know how much to eat, but it gets confusing when parents take over the job of making these decisions at mealtimes. Focus on providing balanced meals and allow your child to eat as much or as little as they need without any interference or comments.
Support your child’s innate relationship to food and eating
Because children grow in spurts, it is normal for the amount of food they need to vary. Sometimes they may need larger quantities of food to feel satisfied, and other times, they may eat very little. It is also normal for kids to have varying food preferences as well, and that is okay too! If you look at how your child eats over weeks instead of a particular meal, you’ll find that your child will get everything they need.
Connect with professional support
In some cases, a child may be struggling with a feeding or eating disorder, and in these cases, professional support would be needed to provide adequate support. In other situations, a parent might feel overwhelmed or even triggered by feeding struggles with their kids. If you find yourself in this position, be sure to reach out for the help you need. Remember, as parents, we can only take our children as far as we have come ourselves when it comes to a healthy relationship with food and body.
What are some mealtime struggles you have faced with your child?