Thursday 29 January 2015

David Coleman: How can I get my son to eat normally again?

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My problem lies with my younger son aged 21 months and his eating habits, or lack of! He had been a great eater up until a couple of months ago and now will no longer eat a dinner and the majority of food types.

Thankfully he is not underweight – in fact he is a little tubby.

He will eat his breakfast, which is normally porridge or Weetabix and a yogurt. This is the best time of the day; however, throughout the rest of the day he will only eat dry crackers, fruit pots or sweets and crisps or spaghetti hoops. That is it, nothing else! He is not teething and it is going on too long now to be a phase. I try him every day, twice a day with his dinner but he looks in the bowl to see what's in it and then says "No".

If I try and force it, he will hold it in his mouth for as long as it takes. My other son, aged four, is a fantastic eater, and we try to eat together as a family probably four times a week.

Mealtimes are becoming a real struggle now and I dread feeding him every day. I am praying that you can offer me some advice, as I do not want to stress my little baby out.

David replies:It is always frightening when our children seem to lose their appetites. We fear they aren't going to get the nutrition that they need. It is this fear that they will 'fade away to nothing' that then drives us to try anything to persuade or force them to eat.

I am sure you have tried many of the old favourites like creating the spoonfuls of food to be airplanes needing a landing runway in his mouth.

Or perhaps you've tried distracting him with stories or toys while you try to slip some food into his mouth.

There are many variations on these 'tricks' to try to get children to eat more than they want to. In my opinion, however, that is all that they remain – 'tricks'.

You know that your son has not dropped weight, so his recent restricted choice of foodstuffs hasn't led him to 'fade away'.

Take this as a reassuring sign that your son is doing okay and that you can safely listen to the messages he is giving you.

By holding food in his mouth, without swallowing, he is giving you the clearest message he can that he doesn't need or want that food at that time.

I think it will really help you and him if you listen to that message.

I believe that when children don't eat it is because they are either full, or they don't want a particular type of food.

Many babies and toddlers will change their eating patterns, very radically, between about 12 and 24 months of age. This is, typically, because a huge part of their physical growth slows down.

I think they inherently know that they don't need the same volume of food to give them the energy they need to continue to grow at their new, slower, rate.

So they eat less volume. Most parents are not expecting this and so do, indeed, panic at this apparent 'food strike' that their baby or toddler exhibits.

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