Monday, March 7, 2011

My 4-year-old won't eat her dinner - please help!

I received this note from a young mother recently….

Hi Dr. Pandit!  I saw your blog on my friends Facebook  page and decided to check it out because I am having so much trouble with my daughter! She refuses to eat dinner with us and she is only 4 years old, so I don’t think it is any kind of anorexic tendencies – lol! I leave the food out for her after we eat, but she always complains that she wants to eat something else. When I say no – she starts crying and saying that she is so hungry and her tummy hurts real bad. I’ve tried everything including cooking her favorite foods with no luck. Please help!!
A frustrated Mommy in Ohio.

My response:

Hi Frustrated Mommy! Don’t despair! I hear this one often from parents of growing toddlers.  First off – don’t worry about your daughter not getting enough to eat – we all eat when we are hungry and children are no different in that respect! Next, put the plate of food away in the refrigerator, and do not act like you are upset at all that she doesn’t want to eat. Do not compromise!  Do not make her anything else to eat that she may like better.  If she complains of her tummy hurting, or being hungry – tell her that you will warm up her dinner – but that she cannot have anything else to eat.  Be firm, and usually after a few evenings of this, the bad behavior will stop.

Please be aware that toddlers who experience parental warmth and gentle encouragement are more advanced in self-control.  So be kind above all else during this process - being firm but also loving. The capacity for self-control begins between 12 and 18 months as toddlers first become capable of compliance, and by showing a clear understanding of caregivers’ wishes and expectations. Most young children will voluntarily obey simple requests and commands.  But more often, toddlers’ control over their own actions continues to depend on constant parental oversight and reminders. Compliance is far more common than opposition to adult directives, and quickly leads to toddlers’ first conscience-like talk.  Remember that you don’t often learn new things in one day, and you should not expect your toddler to do so either!

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