It is the parent’s job to provide children with the tools to learn, grow, and function independently in this world, to the best of their abilities. Feeding oneself is a skill that is developed throughout infancy and childhood with assistance from parents/caregivers. Since infants and young children are at the stage in development where they are learning to feed themselves, responsive feeding requires a parent/caregiver to be aware, identify, and respond appropriately with emotional support.
How parents interact with their children during mealtimes matters. The way parents meet their child’s basic needs has significant implications on all other aspects of their lives, health, and overall well-being. Children grow from the strong, trusting foundation that comes with a positive feeding relationship.
The responsive feeding process includes the back and forth relationship with a parent:
Children begin to connect their actions with the responses they will receive. Children learn their actions are meaningful to the parent. This is part of building trust in the parent-child relationship. Trust is part of the attachment a child has with their parent/caregiver. The process of bonding and establishing trust takes place within everyday interactions. This bond is established when the child can count on their parent to meet their basic needs for food, love, affection, and stimulation. Parents should focus on fulfilling their role in the feeding dynamic and let children do their part, this emphasizes:
Parents can trust their child to be capable of eating. Children can be trusted to eat the amount they need and have the freedom to choose. Parents and children having trust in each other provides the opportunity to build confidence and autonomy for the child to make food choices. With each party sticking to their roles, parents will become more trusting of their child’s ability to consume food in a way that is right for them. Parents who respond appropriately to their child’s cues and uphold their child’s mealtime decisions are helping their child learn to trust their own internal cues, and trust their parents in return. This allows for more positive interactions with food and mealtimes. Responsive parenting and supporting your child to trust themselves further teaches your child to be confident in their own decisions. Trust is important for children to learn how to have confidence in their own internal signals. Building this skill in childhood may impact their perception of their own internal cues as they continue to grow.
Written by: Nicole Bing, OTD-S
Ellyn Satter Institute. Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed.https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/.
Rowell, K.; Wong, G.; Cormack, J; Moreland, H. (2021). Responsive Feeding Therapy: Values and Practice. https://www.responsivefeedingtherapy.com/rft-values-and-principles
Black, M. M., & Aboud, F. E. (2011). Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. The Journal of nutrition, 141(3), 490-494.