What to do when a child won’t eat? Kids can get testy at mealtime. Have you ever been torn between your natural instinct to nourish your child and realizing your child is using food as a power(-struggle) tool, and that you should preclude being manipulated by sending him to bed without supper? Then you want to read what advice ZisBoomBah’s child nutrition expert Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA gave a reader mom whose son has been refusing to eat his dinner.
Mealtime Challenge with the Middle Child
Angie* asked ZisBoomBah for help when her middle son, 5, recently has been refusing to eat. “He’s fine, and suddenly, he’s not feeling well at mealtime,” the mom, concerned about her kid’s health, wrote. Like many parents faced with unruly mealtime behavior, she felt her 5 year old was using food as weapon — “because it is the one thing he has control over.” Her husband’s stance on dealing with a child who won’t eat was that the boy “just needs to get over it and eat.” But Angie needed assurance there wasn’t a deeper kids health issue and wanted guidance on how she should react to her son’s mealtime behavior.
“If your son is otherwise fine and only ‘doesn’t feel well’ at mealtimes, then you’re probably witnessing some manipulative eating behavior,” assessed kids health specialist Dr. Ayoob, who is an associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Angie’s son has likely discovered that refusing to eat gets him attention, even if it is negative attention. “He’s the middle child and may feel ‘lost in the shuffle’ between the other children, rushed by the family life, etc.,” the ZisBoomBah contributor speculated. “It happens, even though it is unintended.”
If a Child Won’t Eat, the Real Issue Could Be Outside of Mealtime
At the same time, Dr. Ayoob cautioned Angie that her husband’s approach might be too simplistic. While the issue may play out during mealtime it could be about more than food and family meals. “Indeed, the real issue could be what’s happening with your child at non-mealtimes,” Dr. Ayoob said, encouraging the mom to devote some one-on-one quality time to her middle child. “Then, during mealtime, give him praise for eating and less attention for not eating,” suggested Dr. Ayoob, who is also Director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Einstein, where he has maintained a clinical practice for over 25 years, specializing in obesity, child nutrition, and family dynamics.. “He will learn that doing what he’s supposed to do actually matters and gets mom’s and dad’s focus.” If the behavior persisted, however, our resource told Angie to seek help from her pediatrician to see whether further evaluation is necessary.
After trying out Dr. Ayoob’s method, Angie happily wrote back, reporting the new routine “has already been helpful.” But she had a follow-up question: What to do when her son chooses not to eat dinner but is then hungry before bedtime? She wanted her son to learn to eat when it is time. Not surprised at the boy’s behavior, Dr. Ayoob had a solution that will put mom back in control of mealtime when her child won’t eat. Read on …