The right kind of attention might improve picky eaters’ behavior

By • Published: May 21st, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Is your child swatting away and rejecting his meals? You are not alone. And there’s even a medical term for it: “Pediatric food refusal.”

It’s not child’s play, though. Children who won’t eat their meals might fail to get the nutrition their growing bodies demand. They also might not gain weight in an age-appropriate way. Or they could experience unhealthy weight loss.

Feeding time can be a game of chicken for children who want to see how long they can hold out before the caregiver gives up.

Giving your picky eater attention might play right into her hands, but some kinds of attention might just do the trick.

Researchers spend many hours trying to figure out just what is the right type of attention parents should give when children display difficult behavior at mealtimes.

A study in the journal Behavior Modification looked at the relative effectiveness of different types of parental attention among a small group of children admitted to a hospital’s intensive feeding program. Does coaxing work better than reprimanding? And what about making statements of concern or comfort?

All forms of parental attention observed in the study led to decreases in inappropriate mealtime behavior. Reprimands and statements of concern or comfort, however, seemed to work better than coaxing to improve inappropriate behavior. But coaxing seemed to do better at getting children to take a bite.

The improvements were only temporary, however, and sometimes behavior worsened after a lull. So it might take a few tries, but go ahead, sweet-talk and scold… it will be worth it to see those spoonfuls disappear.