How Do I Get My Child To Eat?

by | May 4, 2021

It is commonly believed that if a child is hungry enough, they will eat – but this is not always the case [1]. Some children cannot, or do not eat enough to the point that their growth and wellbeing can be impacted [1]. Unlike the rooting reflex for breast feeding, eating is an actual fact a learned behaviour [2]. Therefore, if a child must learn how to eat, they can also learn not to eat [2]. This can become a large source of anxiety for parents and caregivers as teaching a child to eat, who has learned not to requires a large amount of investigation, which can be frustrating and cause a large amount of anxiety and conflict [2]. Has the child learnt not to eat due to pain associated with eating? Fatigue associated with eating? Is the mealtime environment a stressful situation the child (and family) would rather avoid? Has the child not had an opportunity to learn to eat via family modelling due to eating apart from the family? Research shows children have very specific learned behaviours when it comes to eating, and deciphering these links it crucial to achieve long-term positive outcomes [2].

Nutritional intervention is key to highlighting normal eating behaviours and development as well as helping to create positive associations with eating and the mealtime environment [2]. If we understand how the child has learned not to eat, we are able to use positive reinforcement and praise to teach them to eat with enjoyment [3]. There are a number of tools and resources that have been used successfully to combat feeding difficulties in children [3], the first step is to contact your care providers and seek help and guidance.

Food Mind Body has clinicians experienced with providing support throughout childhood feeding journey with regards to nutritional assessment, education, management of complex conditions and ongoing support throughout the life stages for your family to rebuild their relationship with food and eating. Contact us today to discuss treatment options or book an appointment with our friendly staff.

[1] Chatoor, I. (2002). Feeding disorders in infants and toddlers: Diagnosis and treatment. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 11, 163–183.

[2] Toomey, K (2010). When Children Won’t Eat: Understanding the “Why’s” and How to Help.

[3] Gentry, J. A., & Luiselli, J. K. (2008). Treating a child’s selective eating through parent implemented feeding intervention in the home setting. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 20, 63–70.