As a parent, it can be quite frustrating when your child refuses to eat. You think about the time and effort you put up to prepare the food and also think about the implication of your child not eating food rich in nutrients. This situation gets you worried, and you just want to know how to get your child to eat when he or she refuses.
First of all, it is important to understand that there are many reasons a child may not want to eat. Most of the time, the child is a picky eater, but aside from that, it could be that the child finds it difficult to swallow some kinds of food. It could also be a behavioural problem, and in the case of these three reasons, there are things you can do to improve the situation.
If, however, a child refuses to eat because of health-related issues, such as eating disorder, sensory problem, and poor oral motor skill, the way out is to see the doctor and therapist.
For this post, the attention will be on dealing with picky eaters, children allergic to some food, and children that just decide not to eat without an obvious reason.
How to Get a Child to Eat When He or She Refuses
- Limit distractions
Many parents assume that allowing their children to play with a smartphone or watch a TV would keep them busy and quiet when eating. However, these electronic devices only get them distracted; besides, too much screen time has some negative effect on young children.
Therefore, if you want to increase the chance of your child taking the time to eat his or her food, you need to put away these distractions. As the parent, you – too – should adopt it as a culture to put down our phone while eating and concentrate on the family bonding experience that comes with eating together on a dining table.
Also make sure the dining area is comfortable for everybody, including your child by getting him or her the age-appropriate chair.
- Serve small ration
There is a difference between a child totally refusing to eat and the child not able to finish the allotted ration. But lots of parents mix up the two situations. Unlike adults, most children don’t need lots of food. So, even if they are given too much food, they would stop eating once they are filled, without necessarily finishing the food.
For this reason, if you want to get a child to eat when he or she refuses, start by serving a small portion. Allow the child to finish it, and if he or she requests for more, then serve another small portion.
You should also realize that young children usually have a big swing in appetite, and by this, it may not be necessary for them to take three square meals in a day. Moreover, some children have a unique eating style. They may eat more in the morning and less at night or vice versa.
As the parent, you have to observe your child’s eating pattern and adjust to it.
- Don’t serve meals too close to bedtime
If your child is already feeling sleepy before you serve dinner, there is a high chance that he or she wouldn’t be interested in eating. The reason is that, after a full day of activities in the child, once he or she decides to lie down to sleep, it is difficult to sit up to do anything else, but to sleep.
Therefore, to prevent your child from refusing to eat dinner, ensure it is served long before bedtime. The recommended dinner time for kids is 6:00 pm.
- Don’t use threats
When kids do what is wrong, many parents resort to yelling or spanking, but as made clear in these two articles 5 Psychological effects of yelling at a child and How to discipline a toddler. Aggressive disciplinary methods will most likely worsen the situation. Your child would become upset and might even start crying when spanked or yelled at, instead of eating.
The cry would get you more frustrated, and the hope of making the child eat the food may be completely dashed. So, if you want to get a child to eat when he or she refuses, don’t pressurize, yell at or spank him or her.
- Involve your child in meal planning
One of the life hacks for smart mums is to create a meal plan and cook in bulk. However, if the plan is created without involving all members of the family, including the kids, food items on the schedule may be dominated by nobody’s favourite meal.
So if your child is old enough, involve him or her while drawing up the family meal plan, and when the plan has been drawn, allow him or her to follow you when going shopping.
At the same time, ask your child to join you in the kitchen when preparing the food; doing this would get him or her excited about eating.
- Reduce snacks consumption
Children have a small stomach, and for this reason, they can’t eat a lot of food. As a parent that wants his or her child to eat very well, you have to be conscious of snacks and drinks, as they are more enjoyable – thereby making kids consume lots of them until they get filled-up and won’t have space for the real food that nourishes their body.
This doesn’t mean you should start denying your child yummy snacks and drinks, but ensure your child reduces intake of such. In addition to that, snacks and drinks shouldn’t be taken close to dinner time.
- Ask questions
There are situations whereby a child used to eat very well in the past but suddenly changes. In these situations, instead of looking for how to get the child to eat when he or she refuses, ask questions if the child is old enough to express his or her feelings.
The problem may not be a loss of appetite or a lack of interest in eating. It may be that the child is suffering from pains, such as toothache and sore throat. The child may also have constipation or developed an allergy for the food being served.
Some children also experience a slight change in appetite when they move to a new location or when they are stressed. However, by asking questions, you would find out the reason your child refuses food, and you can offer support.
In conclusion, getting a child to eat when he or she refuses isn’t as difficult as it may appear. As much as the child doesn’t have an eating disorder, sensory problem, and poor oral motor skill, the tips provided in this post would help improve the situation.