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Tips for Getting an Uncooperative Child to Eat

Updated on June 2, 2010

Most parents expect to have problems with their kids. Many even expect to have problems related to food, such as having a picky eater in the family or dealing with teenage issues of weight and self-esteem. But what most parents don't ever think might be a problem is getting a child to eat something. After all, it's a natural human instinct to get hungry and then eat. True, but sometimes kids do have this problem. It's not talked about extensively, but it's something that you should realize you're not alone in.

Having a child who refuses to eat is difficult for so many reasons. First of all, it creates obvious worry. You want your child to eat because you know that he or she needs to eat in order to survive. When your child won't eat, your instinct turns towards doing all you can towards that survival. This brings up the second problem which is that refusal to eat creates a power struggle between you and your child, a power struggle which will get played out several times each day. This is exhausting and serves to create a tense environment which is bad for everyone in the house.

The first thing that you need to do is to extricate yourself from this power struggle. This won't be easy. And you'll have days when you fail at it. But you can take some steps to get away from it. First of all, sit down and do some internal emotional work about the situation. If you can approach it pragmatically instead of emotionally, you'll be better equipped to deal with the situation and not let the power struggle get out of control. You probably have a number of emotional issues to cope with. You're afraid for your child. You feel failure as a parent. You're angry that you even have to deal with this. Work through these emotions whether that's with a diary or a counselor so that you can get a grip on the situation.

Once you're emotionally clear, you can establish a plan of action for altering the situation and getting your child to eat. The first step in this is to figure out why your child refuses to eat. There are any number of reasons that this could be. If a transition has just happened in your child's life, refusal to eat may be the only means your child has to feel in control. If a divorce took place, a new school was started or some other obvious transition occurred, you can deal with the underlying problem and the food issue will go away on its own. Or perhaps food is the issue. You'd be surprised to find how young some children begin worrying about their weight; girls as young as three and four sometimes refuse to eat because they want to be thin. The repair for this will be education about healthful eating and emotional work to deal with the self-esteem issues.

The point here is that the food is probably not the problem. It's a symptom of the problem. So you need to work to figure out what the problem is, then address that. Remember that withholding consumption of food is something that your child is doing to gain power over either you or his/her life in general. See what you can do to restore some power to your child in a positive manner. This will include giving him/her power in the kitchen; helping with selecting food at the store and preparing it at home can do wonders for getting non-eaters to eat a little bit. It will also include power in other ways related to the underlying issue.


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  • profile image

    And Another Thing.... 5 years ago

    Only a gutless, weak coward beats a child.

  • profile image

    Are You Kidding Me?? 5 years ago

    "beat the hell out of their head?" I surely hope that if you get to that point, you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  • profile image

    kevin 6 years ago

    What was the tip ?

  • profile image

    Michelle 6 years ago

    I love your ideas and struggle with a six year old who is not adventurous at all. I started a map of the world and Unadventurous got to colour in the country we ate from, thankfully inroducing some variety. He now points out uncoloured countries and asks me what we can eat from there. You can see more here 

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    Cliff 6 years ago

    Not many tips and only at the end of a long winded rant about emotions and underlying issues that in my case play no part. How about a tip like don't give your child candy or snacks several hours before dinner. Put more substance in the story or retitle it.

  • crystolite profile image

    Emma 7 years ago from Houston TX

    Useful hub.Actually i must confess that its so annoying to know that your child don't like eating but the most annoying part is if you notice that each he or she sights any food the baby begins to shad tears.I so much appreciate the information you shared in here because this the problem i have with my kids and most times i feel like beating the hell out of their head but i will surely try this.