Worried about a four, five or six year old’s eating habits? Here are some of my tips for meeting this challenge. Add yours please. This is an expansion of a Wiki How Article I started.
When I was about five years old, my mother worried that I was a Skinny Minny. She decided it was time for me to become a member of the clean plate club whether I liked what was set before me of not. During my growing up years at least yearly, on my birthday usually, she reminded me how by the time I was two years old, she had “cured my Aries temper.” I was born on March 21st and that is the cusp, so I was really a combination of Pisces and Aries–Fish and Ram. Perhaps, that is why I have swum against the current most of my life and not because of the stars, but because of my mother.s interpretation of what I needed because of my astrological signs. My personal opinion of Astrology is that it can be a self fulfilling prophecy.
Anyway, on the night she decided to cure me of my stubborn Aries Ram eating habits, the food of attack was lima beans. I sat at table with the hated light green yucky beans on my plate for almost two hours before I gave in and ate every one.
“Good,” my mother said, “You can go out and play, now.”
I took a deep breath and promptly redeposited every bean, slightly chewed and partially digested back on my plate and fled. My mother was far from stupid and knew I had won that battle. Thereafter, she let me eat what I wanted when I wanted. By the way, I still hate lima beans and get just the slightest bit nauseous when I think of having to eat them. I also hate the color Chartreuse.
My lesson: Never insist a child eat. With my kids I tried to keep the choices limited. One ate almost everything and the other almost nothing. Both are now strong, strapping adults.
My many foster children all came with multiple likes and dislikes. As I keep Kosher and that was a new experience for all but three of my foster children, keeping them happily fed was even more of a challenge. I had free foods that could be eaten until two hours before a meal and an hour after. No sweets were on the free good list. Moreover, it was a dairy list to meet my Kosher kitchen requirements. Sweets were for dessert, as a good night snack with milk. or a special treat. All of the foster children survived my menus and most gained weight. So here are my tips for those with a fussy eater of most ages but particularly four, five or six. Wiki How calls these steps.
- Know who has the problem, you or the child. Ask your child’s doctor how worried you should be. Be honest about what child eats. If your child’s doctor is worried, it is your child’s problem as well as yours.
- By the time a child is four, s/he should be eating a healthy balanced diet although may reject some foods. If left alone, not offered lots of sweets or starches, most children over time will eat what s/he needs.
- Recognize the problem may be more of a will struggle fight than an eating problem. Nagging or worrying about what a child eats often feels like over control to the child and no one likes over control. Moreover, if the child makes the parent give in and give the food the child wants, s/he is rewarded by feeling powerful–not always bad, but not always good.
- Make sure you have not taught the child to use food as comfort, something that is very easy to do. Teach relaxation and calming self talk as an alternative to food.
- Most likely the child who has major food problems by the time s/he is four has both a will struggle and a comfort food problem.
- Help the child develop a new attitude toward food.
- For a month do nothing more than labeling healthy foods as fuel for the body whether liked or not, whether comforting or not. Don’t suggest or force good foods, just label whatever the child is eating as fuel food or not.
- After a month, begin slowly restricting child’s favorite foods and limiting eating to specified times. Make eating times long enough a part that the child will feel hungry. Don’t drastically change diet at this point. Keep labeling.
- After another month pick child’s most favored healthy food and have that always on the menu. Praise for eating fuel food.
- If child has melt downs from not eating, comment that they’re not getting enough fuel food and offer the healthiest favored food or better yet, ask child when s/he has calmed down what s/he wants for fuel.
- After another month, figure out ways to combine favorite foods with less liked foods. Child likes peanut butter, doesn’t like fruit so much. Try peanut butter and sweetened applesauce sandwiches first, then the same with unsweetened applesauce then peanut butter and banana’s or soften applesliced sandwichers next. Child likes chocolate milk? Gradually reduce the amount of chocolate you use to make his or her chocolate milk so all but a bit of chocolate remains.
- Keep expectations for change slow. It took years to develop this type of problem and will take time to end it. Your job is to get across the idea that eating is for fuel with an occasional reward of the foods we love that comfort.
- Any others involved in the child’s life need to buy in to this or the plan will not work as well. If you cannot get buy in, simply recognize that different people behave differently and you are interested in your child learning how to eat for fuel and not in forcing foods.
- Stop saying “Try just a bite, you’ll like it.” Usually teaches the child that trying isn’t a good idea.
- Dump any guilt or shame you feel about creating the problem. Parents are human and our society expects far too much and offers too little help.
- Practice a Daily Emotional Fitness Program to help you deal with your emotions related to this. This will help you maintain a matter of fact tone of voice when discussing what your child eats, your anxiety fuels both types of feeding problems and part of the cure is dealing effectively with any negative emotions attached to the problem.
Warning: Always stay in touch with your doctor and bring a week’s log of what your child has eaten to each appointment.
Second warning: Advice is just advice. My advice is always based on a combination of what I have learned as a parent, foster parent, grandparent and my professional expertize as a social worker who has worked primarily with families and children The above has worked for me and a number of parents I have advised and coached. If works for you fantastic. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Advice is alway general and how it can be applied and if it will work specific to the individual trying it.
Good luck and stay strong. Remember your comments are always welcomed. And forwarding my post to others who might be interest helps build my audience and that keeps me strong.