How to deal with children when they refuse to eat?
If you have a toddler, the chances are you are faced with the problem of picky children regarding food or worse– when they refuse to eat anything. As food is vital for our health, mothers perceive the described situation as a drama and try various strategies to deal with it – pleading with their children to collaborate, promising rewards, negotiating, threatening them with some kind of punishment, resorting to telling kids that scary fairy tales characters will take them away if they don’t obey (which brings for developing persistent fears and anxiety in kids) or just thrusting the spoon into kids’ mouths.
What causes this behavior in children? What is the best approach? Let’s draw upon specialists’ knowledge and experience.
Psychologists explain that at that age (1-3 years old) children have very limited control over their lives. Part of growing up is searching for ways to obtain more control. Toddler’s age is connected with a big life change for kids – learning to say “no”, starting making choices, having individual preferences. Eating is the ideal opportunity for them to practice this newly recognized right or skill. It’s also a perfect way to punish parents who have disappointed them with something.
Don’t underestimate children’s ability to experience frustrations of their own – not letting them to stay longer at the playground, not letting them play with something they find attractive, going to work and leaving them with someone else, or just being bored by you. On one hand, as a caring parent you should try to satisfy their needs for variety and attention but on the other – it’s inevitable that they have to learn gradually to cope with frustrations. Learning that you can’t have every desire satisfied is a painful but unavoidable lesson – it’s part of life. Again balance is the key.
Children need to find a way to release this tension and protest in their own way. Refusing to eat can be such a protest and the more you force them to eat, the more stubborn they will become. They see how upset you are by their refusal and this is a hint how to punish you when they are angry.
Plus, from psychological point of view associating food with force might develop an unhealthy approach to food in the future. Food should be considered as a tasty way to satisfy hunger. If you let you child decide when to eat, they will adopt that healthy concept naturally. The psychologist Madlen Algafari suggests that you make sure your kid gets enough water and leave the choice to them to ask for food when they feel hungry or see there’s no need to be on strike as there’s no pressure exerted on them. She says she herself refused to eat at that age and her mother followed the advice of a doctor to give her the freedom to decide when to eat. She didn’t eat for 3 days!!! But after that she stopped that kind of protests and her parents solved the problem for good.
Furthermore, too much emphasis on the quantity of eaten food as a way to kids’ happiness and health is actually unhealthy. Focus on the nutritious properties of food and other ways to make a kid happy. There are numerous mental benefits of exercise, communicating and playing games with the child.
Other useful techniques to deal with problem include:
- Make sure that the child can choose between different foods. You yourself have personal preferences so why would you assume that your child doesn’t?
- When you’ve cooked something they’ve told you they want to eat and then they refuse to eat it, don’t get angry. Let them realize that they can take part in deciding what meal will be present on the table but you can’t satisfy every change in their desires.
- Leave a plate in a place which is approachable to them so they can eat when they feel hungrier or when they give up trying to “beat” you in the battle for power. They won’t starve to death, and as long as food is there they will eat when they want to.
- Give children some time to adjust from one activity to another. If they are engaged in a game, calling “The table is set. It’s time to eat” doesn’t mean that your words will have an immediate effect on your child. You know how you can get so involved in something interesting that you need some time to give your hunger attention and interrupt the current activity. Ten to fifteen minutes before setting the table, tell that after a while the food will be ready.
- Don’t have family arguments at meal time with your spouse or your kid. When a person is nervous, their digestive functions are affected badly. Make sure that your child associates eating with a serene and pleasant atmosphere.
Maria Dimitrova writes for anotherway.org, a site where you can discover the most efficient solutions to problems in different areas and useful information like the best web browser, why the cost of gold has surged or how to invest in precious metals.
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