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Force Feeding or Pressure To Eat: Expert Explains Correct Way To Feed A Child

Given that children's stomachs are smaller than adults, read on to know expert advice on how to feed a child. 

Sambhav Kumar
Written by: Sambhav KumarUpdated at: Aug 31, 2023 12:33 IST
Force Feeding or Pressure To Eat: Expert Explains Correct Way To Feed A Child

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Parents tend to be worried when their child refuses to eat, eats very little, or avoids healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. Some parents may be concerned about this, especially if their child is not gaining or losing weight. Forcing, or coercing a child to complete their meal is a typical parental practise. 

“What parents forget is that children have different appetites and tastes, and forcing them to eat often leads to them disliking the food or eating less of it. To make mealtimes more pleasurable and healthy, parents must stop pressuring their children to eat,” said Dr Shelly  Gupta,Consultant - Neonatologist and Paediatrician, Motherhood Hospitals,Gurgaon.

What Exactly Does Force-feeding Mean?

As per journal Nutrients, feeding practises in early life is critical for a child's healthy growth, development, and potential.

Every parent wants to provide their children nutrition and nourishment, but occasionally they wind up forcing food down their children. Force-feeding may take the form of any of the following:

  • Feeding the youngster copious amounts of food despite his dislike
  • Choosing what, when, and how much food the child will eat
  • Comparing the child to other children or extorting the child into eating or taking a huge portion of food.
  • Refusing to heed a child's requests to eat less or later

The Long Term Impact of Force Feeding

“While a child may eat a little bit more when pushed, the act of being forced to eat might cause the food to become associated with negative emotions, which can lead to hatred and avoidance”, Dr Gupta quoted.  

Also, it may prevent kids from recognizing and acting upon their own internal cues of hunger and fullness, increasing the likelihood that they may overeat in the future. As per Dr Gupta force feeding could lead to: 

  • Aversion to Eating
  • Reduces Appetite
  • Long term Negative Association with Food
  • Unhealthy Eating Patterns
  • Overeating/Undereating
  • Eating Disorders

Children typically have a very good sense of when they are hungry and when they are full. It is crucial to have faith in them and know that they will eat if they are hungry. By doing this, you won't need to coerce your kid into eating. When their body demands nourishment, they will do this voluntarily. In a similar vein, pressure shouldn't be applied to children's innate tendencies to reject novel or bitter meals. 

Instead, keep attempting to feed your child and accept any refusals, understanding that this is a natural developmental stage and that your actions will affect whether or not this is a pleasant or negative experience for your child.

Things To Consider When Dealing With A Child Who Refuses To Eat

Consider yourself in their position 

Try to picture what it would be like to be forced or coerced into eating while not being hungry, or to not know what you were being ordered to eat. What would you think? It will be easier for you to see that your actions are likely to have the opposite effect of what you meant if you empathise with your child and try to understand the world from their perspective. Consider things from your child's perspective each time they reject food.

Make a note of their last meal 

When did your youngster last have a snack or a substantial beverage like milk? Are they actually famished? Are they too worn out to eat well at the table? Is your kid not eating because they're sick? To discover if your child's schedule may be influencing their eating behaviour, try keeping a diary of your child's meals, snacks, beverages, and nap times.

Trust their hunger cues

“When we are hungry or full, our bodies are incredibly good at communicating that to us. However, persistent interference—such as pressuring kids to eat when they no longer want to—can sabotage this”, said Dr Gupta, adding, try to allow your child to communicate their hunger and fullness cues to you because this is a behaviour we want to protect rather than undermine.

Also read: Tips For Baby Skincare In Winters: Expert Explains Dos & Don’ts

Understand portion size is different for children

Given that children's stomachs are smaller than adults', you might be offering them too much food and creating unrealistic expectations as a result. As a general rule, one serving of each dish should roughly fit in the palm of a child's hand. Try pairing a serving of natural yoghourt and fruit the size of your palm for dessert. Although every child has a different appetite, remembering the palm rule will help you avoid serving excessive amounts of any one meal.

It is a good idea to eat meals with your child, and be patient when you introduce something new to them. After refusing the food a couple of times children eventually do tend to eat when they are hungry. Also, taking children along for grocery shopping and teaching them the nutritional benefits you get from different food also works well in children accepting something offered to them.