Parenting | When Your Child Doesn't Want To Eat

It's okay to let children eat with their hands

I recently went on a course all about children and their eating habits or lack of them. It really did open my eyes to just how many children out there either refuse to eat or will only eat certain things. I suppose we have been lucky that both our children are good eaters, I can't imagine what it must be like for parents whose children don't. Hopefully the tips below will help you deal with 'when your child doesn't want to eat'.
I learnt so much on the course but there were a few points that could really help parents out there when it comes to mealtimes with a child.

If you have a child that doesn't eat you need to stop and think why?

Has something happened in the past that has made them afraid of food or sitting down for a meal?

Is mealtimes a stressful time in your home? Are you running around trying to get all meals on the table for everyone? Children can pick up on this stress and if they become stressed too their appetite will instantly become suppressed.

Is it a sensory issue? Maybe the smell, touch, taste of certain foods?

There are a lot of different things which could make a child not want to eat and if you are unsure why then it can be hard to try and change. Here are some factors you could consider at the next mealtime which could help the problem.

Prepare your child for mealtimes 

Do they want to help prepare the food?  Let them touch the ingredients before they are cooked. Get them used to the smell of the meal before it is served.

Does your child need to be calm before a meal or do they need to burn off energy before they sit down? Maybe offer them the chance to watch a TV programme while you prepare dinner then they will feel more relaxed and chilled when it comes to actually sitting down for dinner. If they have lots of energy and need to go crazy before a meal, let them run around the garden or go on a trampoline.

We use a booster type seat for little J but his feet still dangle

Where do you eat your dinner?

Does your child sit at a table with adult chairs? Are their feet on the floor or dangling?

A child needs to be sat on a appropriate chair where their feet can touch the floor or another hard surface.

We were given the task of trying to eat while raising our feet off the floor. It was impossible, seriously try it. I couldn't do it for 5 seconds never mind a whole meal time.

If your child sits at a table maybe stick a box under or something that they can rest their feet on.

Sitting down for meals

If your child hasn't been eating then it has probably caused a lot of drama and negative communication in the past, that's understandable as you are a parent and you want your child to eat.

From now on mealtimes are to be a positive experience.

If you have actually got your child to the table then that's a start.

Start off slow. If your child isn't used to eating, a few chews would be like running a marathon. Give them praise for what they have eaten, don't tell them off for what they haven't.

Start off with just a plate. No utensils. Utensils even spoons can complicate mealtimes for some children. Let them eat with their hands, you may not like it but for now it's better than them not eating at all.

You may notice your child becomes a little fidgety and restless. They may say something like 'I need the toilet'. It's hard to know when they really want the toilet or just fibbing to get away from the food. Try and get your child to go the toilet before they sit down for dinner.

How many times has your child thrown their food on the floor? I know mine have and I've always told them to go and pick it up and put it in the bin, it's dirty. Not only did I allow them to move from the table but I've actually encouraged them to put food they didn't want in the bin. How clever are our kids?

So from now on all food needs to stay on the table. Maybe have a scraps bowl in the centre and if your child genuinely doesn't want something that's on their plate, encourage them to use the scraps bowl instead of the floor.

Movement breaks are okay but it must be positive and it must be done by the parent and not the child. The parent needs to check for signs that the child is going to try and get away from the table and act first. Maybe ask them to pass something such as a cloth or a fork. That way the child has been allowed to leave the table on your say so, not theirs.

These are just a few pointers that I hope may help some parents that are struggling with the children's eating habits.

Are mealtimes a struggle for you and your child?


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