My child gets upset when I try to feed him/her

My child gets upset when I try to feed him/her
There are a number of reasons why your child may get upset at mealtimes. These can be as
simple as being tired, or not being hungry. The number of snacks, meals, drinks, and naps that
your child is having could all be important, as could the comfort of where you are feeding him/her.
Children only have small tummies and so a reluctance to eat could signify that they are just not
hungry – particularly if they have grazed for much of the day. Similarly, drinks can be filling – even
water. Try to be objective and look back over your day. Perhaps keep a diary for a few days, noting
timings of snacks, meals, drinks, naps, where food is offered, and your child’s reaction. You may
find that your child is snacking or drinking more than you were really aware of, for example. If this
is the case, a few changes to your routine may help.
Learning plays a huge role in human behaviour, and eating is no exception. We often have to
‘learn to like’ foods, particularly bitter ones. Food neophobia is also a developmentally natural
stage that children go through in which foods are rejected. Children may be unwilling to try a food
and they may communicate this by crying and turning away. This behaviour is perfectly normal and
the best course of action is to keep offering the food, without any pressure to eat it. As the child
becomes more familiar with it, they will become more willing to try it.
Another way in which food preferences are learnt is via the associations that are formed between a
food and the physiological consequences of eating it. Usually, these are positive (e.g., the
reduction in hunger, pleasurable sensory feedback of taste, texture, and smell). However, in some
cases, these can be negative. For example, a child who has suffered from painful constipation may
be reluctant to eat. In less common cases, a reluctance to eat can be associated with a more
serious biological problem. If you feel that your child is in pain after eating, you should seek
medical advice from your GP.
Parental behaviour can also be important when children appear to be upset at mealtimes. Parents
are often worried when their child eats very little, or refuses a meal completely. For some, this
worry can be significant, particularly if the child is not gaining weight well, or is losing weight. For
others, uneaten meals can be a source of frustration. Often parents find themselves using
pressure or coercion to try and get their child to eat and this pressure to eat is one way in which
negative associations around mealtimes can be formed. Try not to coerce or force your child to eat
if they do not want to. Try also to stay calm – your frustrations will be easily apparent to your child
and can perpetuate the problem further.
If your child is getting upset when you intervene to try and help him/her to eat then this may be a
sign that they are trying to exert their independence. Learning to self-feed is an important skill that
children need to learn. Although it can be messy, it is important to let your child do this so that they
can develop into an independent eater.
Prolonged refusal to eat may indicate a more serious problem. Please contact us or speak to your
GP or health visitor for advice.