Yesterday, my five year old got peckish.. He reached for the draw, found a chocolate biscuit and asked if he could eat it. I said no, and a minor battle ensued. I wanted him to eat his imminent dinner, so I could bask in the contentment of seeing him eat my lovingly prepared supper. He doesn’t quite grasp my complicated reasons. Food is an emotive issue. Here are some facts to help lighten the intensity of these food battles.
- It’s natural to feel stressed when children won’t eat their dinner: As mothers, we have evolved to feel happy when our children eat. It is a sign of health and wellness in our children. However, as mothers, we have also evolved to feel anxious when our children don’t eat. It was a sign of illness, and illness often led to death. Here’s the crunch – only in a world where food is scarce. (ie, the world we evolved in). In our current world, food is not scarce, and it is okay if our children don’t want to eat. They won’t die. As mums, we need to temper our anxiety about that, and realise it is programmed in us, but no longer helpful.
- Toddlers don’t want to try new things: Baby led weaning shows us that babies are very happy to “self feed”. In fact, they’ve been doing this for centuries. Traditionally, babies and toddlers start to scavenge when they start to move. So, from about 10 months, babies are finding things that they might put in their mouth. But they get fussy. Nature needs to keep toddlers safe from berries that look yummy but are poisonous. How does nature do this? By making sure that toddlers only eat what they know is safe. Toddlers have evolved to be sure that the berries they eat are EXACTLY the same as the ones they’ve always eaten. That’s why the bowl HAS to be the same one. The food CAN’T look any different. That’s also why it only happens at about 10 months old. Before that, baby will stuff anything in her mouth, because mum is with her and watching. Once she’s on the move, the world gets more dangerous, and she gets more fussy.
- It gets easier: the good news is that as toddlers grow older, they do generally experiment more, and will try new things. Here are some tips for making the first 5 years less stressful:
Eat together: eating as a social, pleasant time together, greatly increases the chances of your child enjoying food
Let your toddler pick from your plate: your baby intuitively knows your food is safe for him to eat (he has evolved to copy you), so he will more readily eat from your plate than from his – especially if the food is new to him.
Do some deep breathing exercises: if you notice yourself getting stressed about your baby’s eating, calm yourself down using basic breathing techniques that we teach in class. It’s natural that you’re anxious, but not necessary. If you don’t calm yourself down, you run the risk of getting into a battle.
Be kind to yourself: remind yourself that your baby is just behaving normally for his age, and will still be here tomorrow even if he doesn’t eat!
Don’t do what I do : don’t leave biscuits within easy reach. This only kicks in their natural foraging behaviour, and then leads to arguments when you say no. And I’m the psychologist…. doh!
Mia Scotland, www.yourbirthright.co.uk.