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Encouraging a 3 year old to eat!


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We have a little boy who joined our setting in January this year, he will only eat yogurt and porridge at home, and only the variety of yogurt that mum buys for him. We have tried spoon feeding, peer encouragement, role modelling, activities with food. He flatly refuses to eat anything, he will sit at the table during lunch, and he is upset, although not distressed, more a complaint noise. He has an older brother who has several food allergies, therefore meals at home are governed by the diet of his sibling. Mum admits that she finds the whole meal thing very difficult, we have made suggestions to her about how model a positive approach to him. She has taken advice from her GP who appeared not to be concerned about the child. Can any of you make suggestions of how we can help him and his mum please?

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I have found that the more encouragement you offer, the harder it is for the child to eat. The best solution for me has always been to take away all attention from the food and leave it up to the child to choose what to eat.

He is already flatly refusing to eat so you won't make things any worse by taking the pressure away. Encouraging and rewarding eating can reinforce the child's view that food is something to be endured, not enjoyed.

Messy play involving food can help, as can cooking activities, as long as nobody ever decides that the child should taste anything they are making or playing with. The child has to be allowed to take the lead themselves.

The key is to remove all anxiety and encouragement and give the child nothing to push back against. Once they realise that it is totally up to them to decide whether to eat and nobody is going to pass comment on whether they do or not, healthy children will start choosing to eat of their own accord.

One caveat is that this doesn't always apply to children with neurodevelopmental disorders. For example, the saying that no child will starve themselves isn't necessarily true of children with autism.

If the GP isn't concerned about the child, that probably means that he is putting on enough weight to remain healthy and getting enough varied nutrients. You could perhaps help the mother by encouraging her to write a food diary for him because he may be eating more than she realises, possibly in snacks between meals.

Having a child who won't eat at mealtimes can be hugely anxiety inducing for everyone concerned. The most important thing is that everyone around him keeps their anxiety to themselves and shows him that mealtimes are simply enjoyable social occasions where there is food available if he would like to take it.

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great advice above! how much milk is he eating? I would be inclined to cut down on milk if possible as this is a whole food and will fill him up and therefore he will not feel hunger which is a motivator to eat ...when he realises that is what his body is wanting.

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totally agree with both of the above, we've had 3 with similar issues over the past 12-18 months, we tried all the sticker charts etc but the only thing that worked with all 3 was to completely ignore them, put the food in front of them and walk away, milk was a big issue with 2 of them, and when each child started to try things, the parents got more confidence to reduce the milk and their appetite went up and up. Parents don't always realise how filling milk can be and if they are worried about their child's eating they can sometimes give more as they are happy that they are at least having something that's good for them, same with yoghurts.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I agree with all the above.

Only other thing id say is have you tried removing the stress from mealtimes...... Maybe a picnic but only offering one food item and a very small piece, start by encouraging the child only to lick the food item, no need to eat it only taste. Make it fun.

We've had loads of fussy/awkward eaters with persevering and patience all of them have left us eating many different things.

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Welcome to the forum, valwells.

 

Some good advice here already, but I would say the best thing you can do it to cut down on choices and take away the stress altogether. Give one or two small bits of things you know he'll have a go at, and then figuratively walk away. Try not to notice if he picks things up to eat, sit him with other children who are eating happily and just relax. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing sometimes. He's already been influenced by tension around food for his sibling, so showing him that food isn't always a precursor to a tense situation can be very rewarding. When you've all finished eating, calmly pick up what's still in front of him and ask if he has had enough, then take it all away.

 

I would suggest that any discussions about what he has, or hasn't eaten are not held anywhere in his hearing, note it down in his packed lunch box or home diary, if that's what you and Mum have decided to do.

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