Children grow strong preferences throughout their development. They determine what they prefer or what they do not prefer in many areas of their daily life. In regards to mealtime experiences, children learn what their mouth likes and what their mouth dislikes. Parents help support their child’s autonomy by adhering to their child’s wishes, however, we also want children to continue learning about new foods as they grow. The trick is to help them explore at a pace that feels right for them. If children feel pressured or stressed during exploration at mealtimes they may not believe mealtimes are enjoyable. At times, children may show:
Children learn from their personal experiences throughout their lifetime. Your child may have had a bad experience with mealtimes which could lead to a negative association with feeding, and they may use some of the above behaviors to avoid/escape the stress of mealtimes. There are many reasons why children may not be feeling successful at mealtimes such that they want to avoid them. Some children may:
Using a responsive approach, parents must proceed without pressure. Sometimes, parents just want to rush their child through to get to the end result of Just. Eat. The. Food. Remaining patient in spite of wanting to just get their kids to eat is one of the hardest things parents may deal with. Parents can provide opportunities to interact with familiar and unfamiliar foods, during and outside of mealtimes to promote positive interactions without pressure. Parents can find ways to promote opportunities for positive mealtime experiences such as:
Respecting your child’s pace for exploration can help them build positive connections with food. New experiences can be daunting to little ones, so supporting and being connected with your child through new and difficult experiences is important for them to feel safe and explore life. Like any new skill, it takes time, patience, and repetitions to be able to learn and build confidence.
Written by: Nicole Bing, OTD-S
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Black, M. M., & Hurley, K. M. (2017). Responsive feeding: Strategies to promote healthy mealtime interactions. In Complementary feeding: building the foundations for a healthy life (Vol. 87, pp. 153-165). Karger Publishers.
Milano, K., Chatoor, I., & Kerzner, B. (2019). A functional approach to feeding difficulties in children. Current gastroenterology reports, 21(10), 1-8.