Having children who don’t eat in the family is one of the many problems parents face today.
To top it off, some of these children only eat junk food like potato chips, sweets and candy, jelly, biscuits, chocolate, ice-cream, fries, etc.
When it comes to proper meals, they run for the hills. But when they are offered junk food, they are like bees to honey.
Totally upside downâ€¦
Fortunately, though I used to have a picky eater at home, my two young children now eat almost everything we put on the table, especially K.
I believe the culinary likings children have in them has got to doÂ with parentsâ€™ attitude towards food, the way parents teach them aboutÂ food, and whether they are given the opportunity to try different typesÂ of food.
The Story of a Child Who Doesnâ€™t Eat
I had a visitor last weekend and she fits the description I just mentioned above.
She is not fancy of any “proper” meals – except food that she always have: porridge. Followed by her second love: junk food.
Joyce is my niece and she is 4 years old. Her mom always hasÂ problems getting her to finish her meals. The best result: twoÂ spoonfuls of whatever she is eating and that’s it. And then she stopsÂ eating by making sad, “don’t-feed-me-anymore” kind of look.
She’d rather sit there at the table or get away from dining table if she can than eat.
But when she is offered something else (like ice-cream), she will smile and say a loud “yes!”
How to Get Children to Eat
I prepared spaghetti aglio olio for dinner that night. Worse than IÂ thought, Joyce didn’t even try the food at all (my cooking is not thatÂ bad, okay!) and she just clenched her lips when her mom tried to feedÂ her.
After trying to coax her to eat with different tricks and failedÂ flat, it’s time to try my method. This was what we did in general:
- We explain to her why she had to eat.
Otherwise, she would be hungry. In this case, the consequence of notÂ eating is hunger. Joyce might not understand the meaning of hunger butÂ she would experience it first hand if she didn’t eat.
- If she insisted not to eat, we would let her off.
But we told her that she would not have other food until she finishedÂ her dinner. We tried to offer her ice-cream if she finished her meal,Â she didn’t buy it. She chose not to eat. So we let it be. No forcingÂ was needed here.
- After about two hours, she started to cry suddenly.
No one knew exactly what caused the crying. We speculated it could beÂ due to hunger pangs or not having to enjoy ice-cream since she didn’tÂ finish her dinner.
- After some consolation, she stopped crying.
Her mom tried to talk her into having the spaghetti after she hadÂ calmed down. It didn’t work at first, but after offering her that sheÂ could have the spaghetti with some biscuits (in fact, crumbs sprinkledÂ on top of spaghetti), she agreed.
- As the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
Joyce finished everything – without a single word of whining. That wasÂ the most peaceful meal I ever saw Joyce ever had at my home.
Why The Technique Worked (and Didnâ€™t Work)
Let’s take a look at why the method worked.
- First of all, don’t force food down the throat if the child refuses to eat. Avoid any conflicts.
- I wanted Joyce to know how it was like to feelÂ hungry. No words could explain it better than feeling it herself. NoÂ one likes to feel hungry, even a baby knows it.
- I wanted Joyce to know there were consequencesÂ if she didnâ€™t finish her meal. In this case, they could be no ice-creamÂ or no milk (she loves milk and has one bottle before bed every night)Â for the night. It depends on the parents to set the consequences butÂ they must be strong enough to be effective. Feeling hungry was one ofÂ the consequences too.
- For this method to work, parents must be strong and strict enough to follow what has been laid down. Being consistent and choosing what is right over something you fancy are equally important too.
- If you overly sympathize with your child, thisÂ method will not work. You must be “cruel” enough to follow through withÂ consequences. Sometimes we need to be cold-hearted for the good of the children.
- Many parents are too lenient and they give inÂ by offering what children like to eat even though they don’t eat what weÂ provide for dinner.
- If you do so, the message you are sending to your child is: It’s okay not to have dinner. Because if I don’t eat, mummy willÂ offer me milk (or chips, ice-cream, or whatever) instead. I won’t goÂ hungry if I skip dinner. And yet I get what I want to eat. Life is good. Hooray!
This method may seem harsh to some parents but I don’t think so. ItÂ is important to drive home the message that skipping meals isÂ absolutely not allowed â€“ by teaching him in a way that your child won’tÂ forget easily.
Otherwise, children tend to take the message lightly without knowing the impact it has on them.
I strongly believe that if Joyce’s mother follows through thisÂ method whenever she makes a fuss during mealtime, it can eventuallyÂ turn her into a meal loving child.