All of us try to be the most caring, supportive and invested parents as best as we can. And we wish our kids only the best. Hence, it comes naturally to us because we are all evolutionary wired to ensure that our offspring is warm, safe and fed.
But unfortunately, since our primary instincts were developed in a pre-kids' menu world, they might not be as effective as 1,000 years ago.
Dr Chu Hui Ping, consultant paediatric at the Raffles Children's Centre commented, "In the older times when food was scarce and there were more children, it all came down to either eating or staying hungry. Nowadays, there are fewer children per household and more food options available. The feeding style of caregivers has also changed over time."
And as if worrying about what our kids are eating today is not already a handful, research shows that the way we feed them, or our parenting style in feeding, seems to affect their future relationship with food, eating habits, ability to self-regulate food intake, and maintain normal weight.
Of course, parent-child feeding relationships are not an easy thing to study, given a variety of factors that affect them, but there are some interesting patterns in the research findings available to us now.
Recently, we also interviewed Dr William MacLean, clinical professor from Department of Paediatrics at The Ohio State University, who was invited by Abbott Nutrition to speak at the International Summit on the Identification and Management of Children with Feeding Difficulties.
Dr MacLean shared, "It's not a parent's job to control a child’s food intake. The parent's job is to provide balanced meals, make the eating environment positive, and respond to children appropriately."
Sometimes, parents are focusing our energy on trying to change picky eating – getting our children to eat. "There is the constant stress of the importance of good nutrition on the mental and physical growth of the child. More often than not, this escalates into the parent either force-feeding the child or coaxing and even bribing the child just to take another bite of the food," added Dr Chu.
Attempting to control food intake is a recipe for eating problems, now or later. What parents initially view as picky eating is actually a normal developmental stage. And the more we try to change it, or cater to our children, the longer it lasts – and the worse feeding gets.
The new era
So what is a parent who's worried about their child's nutrition to do? Changing the feeding strategy is the most obvious answer, but we all know that it’s easier said than done.
Learning to feed the child in a new way means forgetting all we have heard from our parents and grandparents, and learning to ignore the most basic instinct: worrying about how much or whether our children are eating.
In summary, parents have to assume the role of a leader when it comes to feeding, but give children more independence in making their food choices within certain limits.
Setting the rhythm
It is very important to have a solid structure of meals and snacks in place before embarking on this "new feeding journey".
"Most importantly, parents have to trust their child to decide how much and whether to eat," advised Dr MacLean.
This is the hard part due to our natural tendency to worry about how much they eat. But ultimately, if parents do their jobs with feeding, children will do their jobs with eating.
- Children will definitely eat
- They will eat the amount they need
- They will learn to eat the food their parents eat
- They will grow predictably
- They will learn to behave well at the table
Source: Singapore's Child Magazine