Thursday 21 September 2017

My four-year-old is obsessed with food from time she wakes

Some children are obsessed with food
Some children are obsessed with food
David Coleman

David Coleman

I have a four-year-old girl. She is a very pretty, bright chatty little person. However, it seems her life revolves around food.

Sometimes we feel it's all she cares about. From the moment she wakes she gets excited about food. For example, she loves going to her nanny's because she gets extra helpings of milk and bread. At home, she gets annoyed or really distressed if she can't get more food, even if she had a large dinner. It can be heart-breaking. She has an insatiable appetite. Could you give us some advice as we are at our wits end?

DAVID: A lot of the queries I get about food are about children who restrict their eating or who are picky and fussy about what they eat. I get asked less often about children who have, as you describe, an "insatiable appetite".

I presume that part of your monitoring of your daughter has been to check that her health is good and that things like her height and weight are within the norms for her age.

Even if she is healthy, we can still be worried if children don't seem to have the capacity to regulate their eating. We all aim to help our children have a balanced approach to food and nutrition, so we can panic if things seem unbalanced.

If you do get concerned about over-eating, or insatiable appetites, the most common response of most parents is to then try to restrict their child's food intake in various ways.

In practice, this may mean that such children often get told "no" when they look for snacks, for larger portions or if they want second helpings.

Of course, the message that any child is likely to get from such restrictions is that they cannot be trusted with food. Indeed, they may actually develop anxieties about food that can increase their eating rather than reduce it to a balanced level.

There are several things you can do to try to rebalance your daughter's eating. In the first instance, plan structured mealtimes, and don't allow nibbling or snacking in between. The more predictable her eating becomes for your daughter the less she is likely to obsess about food.

If your daughter does have this anxiety, that she won't get enough food, then plan to have five meals a day, rather than a more traditional three meals. That way she can begin to depend on there always being food and she can trust that she will be fed.

Also, make sure that she practices "mindful" eating. So, in practical terms, ensure that she sits to a table to eat, takes her time eating and isn't distracted by TV, tablets, books or toys. That way she can pay more heed to the signals from her tummy that she is full.

Allied to this, it is a good idea to eat together as a family. It is important that sharing food and mealtimes as a social thing, rather than simply the consumption of calories. It will also allow you to be distracted by eating your own meal such that you don't hover around, trying to control hers.

It is easy, when you are worried, to end up micro-managing your daughter's eating. If you find that you are currently trying to reduce her portion sizes, watching every mouthful, glaring at her if she reaches for seconds or giving out that she is eating too much then you may also be contributing to her anxiety about food.

Scary though it may sound, you need to trust your child to eat as much as she needs. So, if you let her serve herself, choosing or skipping from the options laid out at the table she will, in time find a balance.

In the short term you may find that she serves herself big portions, or chooses favoured foods, but over time she is more likely to become sensitive to her feelings of fullness and to stop eating when she is full.

It is a hard thing to do, but it is so worthwhile, to trust that your child can self-regulate (she can if she is given the opportunity). If you allow her a sense of control about what she puts on her plate and what she eats, she may relax more and obsess less about food.

Your job is not to determine what she eats; it is simply to arrange regular times for her to eat, and to provide the healthy and tasty foods and a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere within which to eat. After that, your child can determine the rest.

My six-year-old constantly whinges and whines. How can I get on better with her?

Please help me have a better relationship with my six-year-old daughter. Her constant whinging, whining and negativity about everything is unbearable. It feels like no matter what situation occurs she will focus on the negative. I hate taking her out because she'll moan and gripe and not enjoy the time together. I worry that my reaction (I eventually get cross) will hurt her. I try to ignore any negative comments or complaining but she'll continue on and on till she gets a reaction. I just don't know what to do with her.

DAVID: Recognising that things aren't working at the moment is a great start. In order to change anything we first need to realise that we have to change.

Changing yourself and how you respond to your daughter is likely to have the biggest impact. Families are systems and we often find that patterns of behaviour persist because we each play our role in the "script" and just react to each other in predictable and unchanging ways.

When adults do change it does force children to change in response to them. So, as the adult, you are likely to have both a greater understanding of what needs to change and the capacity to make that change.

One of the first things for you to do is to record all the good things that your daughter does. At the moment you are likely to be totally absorbed by bold behaviour, whinging or negativity that you perceive.

You may even have forgotten that she has the capacity to behave well or be good company. So catch her being good and comment on that to her. Let her know that you see she can behave well sometimes.

By recording these good behaviours for yourself it will become a stronger reminder of the positive side of your daughter.

The fact that your daughter persists with complaining, moaning and finding fault suggests that she has subconsciously learned this is the best way to get the response that she expects (you getting cross). So when it comes to you changing an aspect of your behaviour, this is a good place to start.

I could imagine that you eventually get cross with her because she doesn't seem to listen, because she doesn't seem to accept your point of view or because the whinging is just annoying!

Staying calm and being responsive to her is very important. She needs to know that you hear her and that you can understand that she is frustrated, upset or grumpy.

Let's imagine that your daughter is moaning about her dinner and refusing to eat it because she claims she hates mashed potato.

A calm and understanding response might be "I hear you saying that you don't like mashed potato and that you won't eat your dinner". She will probably agree and moan further about mashed potato being disgusting and that you are being mean to her by serving it for dinner.

You then repeat again "yes, it sounds like you really don't want to eat the mashed potato. That's hard because you might be hungry if you don't eat."

If she keeps complaining you might say something else understanding like "it is difficult when you don't get what you want. I think you'd prefer something else for dinner, but unfortunately I have only cooked the potatoes".

The key thing is for you not to get hooked into an argument about why she won't eat the potatoes, or whatever it is that she is complaining about. I think that you getting into a row with her might be one of the central maintaining factors in her whinging. If you can remain compassionate and understanding, without getting frustrated, you may find that her whinging will reduce significantly. I think you will also find that when you try to take her perspective, in this understanding way, that you will find it easier to stay calm.

That calmness in response to your daughter is likely to be the most significant thing in keeping the whinging and negativity to a minimum. It may take effort but it is a worthy investment in your relationship with your daughter.

Please help me have a better relationship with my six-year-old daughter. Her constant whinging, whining and negativity about everything is unbearable. It feels like no matter what situation occurs she will focus on the negative. I hate taking her out because she'll moan and gripe and not enjoy the time together. I worry that my reaction (I eventually get cross) will hurt her. I try to ignore any negative comments or complaining but she'll continue on and on till she gets a reaction. I just don't know what to do with her.

 

 

 

 

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