Eating Problems in Children: What You Should Know

Why do eating problems arise in children? They're usually based on small changes in their personality and behavior. It's not a serious situation and can be controlled with proper parental attention.
Eating Problems in Children: What You Should Know

Last update: 15 January, 2020

Eating problems in children have to do with personality and behavior, but don’t panic: these habits can be controlled.

Refusing certain types of food, not eating the amount parents want, or preferring not-so-healthy foods are typical parental concerns. At what point should you be concerned if a child doesn’t meet the nutritional expectations that experts have set out?

Children who eat little, children who eat too much, children who eat nothing… These are the three main types of eating problems in children. While the ideal thing would be for the whole family to sit around the table and all share delicious dishes in harmony, this just doesn’t happen too often with children! The good news is that these problems usually start to disappear after the teenage years.

Eating problems in children or a passing phase?

Whatever the situation, if you have any doubts about your child’s health, then it’s essential to consult your pediatrician. Although each doctor has his or her own views on symptoms and methods, as regards to eating, they should only refer to the established growth charts published by nutritional experts.

A child’s eating “disorder” can be dangerous for their health if you can observe changes that take place in a short period of time – changes concerning their weight, height and general state of mind. In particular, one should be concerned if:

  • The child loses weight and doesn’t put it back on
  • The child gains weight excessively

As long as these two situations don’t occur, then parents (and grandparents) can be confident that this is most likely a passing phase. It’s unlikely that you’d be dealing with an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia. Let’s remember that these types of disorders are more typical of adolescence.

Eating Problems in Children: What You Should Know

What’s really harmful is for children to constantly hear comments about their weight or what they eat. Eating problems in children are often simply family problems. Over-attention, forcing them to eat, or forcing children to stop eating, can all lead to long-term nutritional problems.

Regulate appetite in a respectful way

The child’s parents and caregivers must understand that making continual comments about children’s eating only makes things worse. There are different ways that you can control their eating without resorting to yelling or threats, or causing emotional distress in young children.

How much and when should the child eat? To begin with, it’s not what they eat, but rather what they’re offered, and how it’s done. You should instill good habits in them from an early age.

Those in charge of feeding your child should offer the food, leave the dish on the table, and remove it after 20-30 minutes. In that time, each child should eat what he wants and needs. When you remove the plate, you shouldn’t make any comment about what the child has or hasn’t eaten.

When should you offer them food? You need to offer young children snacks every two to three hours, alternating these with the three main meals. Outside of these mealtimes, you should restrict food and liquids. The ideal time to eat is when everyone else is eating, neither before nor after. At mealtimes, each child should take what he or she wants.

Distractions and child participation

Whether for overly selective children or children who eat too much, mealtime distractions should be avoided. With no TV and no pets around, no cell phones and no toys, a calm environment is created that is conducive to eating in peace.

At main meal times, everyone should sit at the table, and this should also apply to the younger members of the household. One way to encourage food self-regulation is to invite children to participate in food preparation: setting or clearing the table, washing the dishes, and other kitchen activities.

Gradually, adults who use these methods discover that children will eat the foods required by their nutritional needs.

Eating Problems in Children: What You Should Know

In conclusion, eating problems in children are often caused by a lack of clear guidelines in the home. Many families insist on commenting on how children eat or how they look. In these cases, a serious problem with food can arise.

Respectful parenting and clear rules are often more than enough to ensure that children are well nourished. This will help them develop physically and mentally.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.