Mealtimes are a nightmare. My younger daughter (aged five) is a very fussy eater. I slave to put together food she likes and she just turns up her nose. Some days, I spend hours coaxing and cajoling her, even running around the house behind her, trying to get her to eat a bite here and there. What can I do to turn mealtimes into a more pleasant time for both of us?
I suspect you’ve heard this before from your paediatrician, elders and moms, but have ignored it: Don’t make food a big issue. A meal skipped here and there, eating smaller quantities than you expect and refusing milk are not huge problems at all. Metabolisms differ and the bottom line is that no one goes hungry if she can help it. Step back and consider this: a) Nothing will happen to your child if she misses a meal or even two, b) force-fed meals aren’t nourishment and c) food isn’t the only nourishment a kid needs.
You seem to be more interested in “making” your child eat than she is in eating. And she recognizes this, too. You’re in danger of encouraging her to seek negative attention; she will get fussier and you more harassed if this continues. Don’t devote so much time to convincing her to eat, or she may permanently forge a neurotic relationship with food, far more damaging than minor ups and downs in daily nutrition. When a parent builds so much anxiety around mealtimes, a kid finds it difficult to enjoy food, and/or uses the situation negatively.
Firstly, you need to see that, for you, far too much rests on your child eating what you want her to eat. Your sense of responsibility, mothering, nurturing, being needed, seem to be connected to you ‘achieving’ the goal of giving her the right food, at the right time. That’s why you’re running around the house to get her to eat. And it’s obviously no fun for either of you.
Secondly, seriously think about your interactions with her through the day,and examine if you need to strengthen other avenues of nurturing that may be completely unrelated to food. Games, quiet tender moments, just letting her be, small outings, chats, ordinary time spent together, where you’re not trying to get her to do something, but just ‘being’ in a companionable, loving way. Stop discussing food. Relax your own attitude about her eating and things will straighten out—for her as well as you.
(Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org)