Why Pressuring Kids Can Backfire and How to Deal with The Pressure to Make Them Eat

Vanessa Millovich DCN RDN LDN

Why we feel so much pressure in the first place

Being a parent is tough. Parenting a child who has any nutritional or health issue has even more challenges. When it comes to food and mealtime, if you have a child who is nutritionally at risk, it can feel like all you ever think about is how much they are eating.

 

If you’re calm, your child will learn to be calm

In these situations, parents, caregivers, siblings, and the child all feel the pressure of eating. It is important to take a step back and realize that your feelings of anxiety around mealtime are also felt and shared by anyone else at the table with you and your child. Reminding yourself of this during mealtimes may help you set a calmer foundation, and most likely, your child will take notice.

 

Pressuring kids to eat usually backfires

It is super tempting to beg your kids to take a bite or something on their plate. However, pressuring kids to eat usually doesn’t work. One study showed that pressuring kids to eat actually led to them eating less. Another study in college students showed they still hated certain foods they were forced to eat as children. Food can be really emotional!

 

Establish a schedule- but be flexible about it 

Working to establish a schedule around eating can help everyone involved in meal-time know what is expected of them and can make meal-times less stressful overall. A laid-back routine means that you try your best to prepare sit-down meals and snacks (at the table) around the same time, each day, and if something comes up and the routine has to change, it is all okay. If your child sees and hears how upset you get if a meal isn’t on-time, they take on that anxiety and it can make it harder for them to relax and enjoy their meal, and hence feel relaxed enough to eat. Get more tips on setting a laid back schedule here.

 

Discuss the mealtime routine with your spouse, kids, and family

If everyone involved in mealtime is on the same page, and knows what is expected of them, dealing with the pressure to get a child to eat can become less so. By establishing ground rules around mealtime, it helps to make the entire experience feel less stressful, and then you end up only having to think about the healthy example you are setting for your child. For example, establishing that food is only eaten at the table and that when kids leave the table that signals to you that dinner is done.

 

Remember that it is a process

 Learning to eat takes a long time and positive changes don’t happen overnight. It is important to remember to remind yourself, and your family, that every step you take to improve mealtime, is a step to help your child learn to eat – eventually they will eat.

 

Up next: When should you worry about nutritional deficiencies?