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How to Avoid, and Deal with, Stress and Tantrums During Mealtimes

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Fussy eating can be daunting for both parent and child: the tears, the screams, and the stress can be intolerably painful and the tantrums that your child throws can be painful too. It is very easy for the situation to get out of control; and have something as beautiful as a family meal turn into a repeated daily nightmare. You can easily get tangled into a vicious circle of you trying to introduce new food for the sole purpose of getting your child the right nutrition that form a necessity to their growth and hence fulfil your job as a parent, and your child trying to repeatedly communicate in a way or another that they are not interested, or that they has simply decided that meal time is no longer fun for them and seems more like torture or punishment making them resent both the food and the whole meal setting. 

To help you better manage mealtimes and hopefully have a calmer meal with your child, we put few tips drawn from both personal experience and knowledge shared by the National Nealth Services in the UK (NHS): 

  1. Go to mealtimes with no expectations: I know this is difficult to execute, as every parent would expect their child to have the meal they have lovingly prepared for them. But less expectations means less disappointment and frustration. You cannot control your child particularly if they are over or under sensitive, they will accept the food when they decide when. Also, do not expect the 9 steps to work straight away just because you tried, as mentioned the average number of tries is 30, and your child can progress fast or slow on any of the steps, and they might even go back and forth on the progress. It is not a linear experience.
  2. Try to eat with your child or have family mealtime. Children copy their parents and siblings, and it would help your fussy eater to see you eat the new food you are introducing to them. If they reach for your plate, this is good news, as kids often like eating out of the grown-up plate!
  3. Try to be consistent in the meals’ time, place, plates, and cutlery, as some children do not like frequent change, and routines provide a safe setting for your child, and are a good way to communicate expectations from you and your child.
  4. If your child is fidgeting and cannot stay in their chair for the required amount of time to have their meal, then introduce a timer starting with 5 min and increasing the time gradually. You can get a sandglass timer from amazon or another provider. If sitting itself is the issue, you can use weighted lap pad or shoulder pad to keep your child sitting in their chair.
  5. If your child does not communicate vocally yet, teach them signs for when to start the mealtime and when to end the mealtime. You can also show them their plate (it will have to be the same plate every time), so they know it is time for eating. Another way to communicate to your child is through visual aids and communication cards that show images of plate with food. You can purchase these cards from amazon or another provider, or download similar images and print them from the internet. 
  6. Try to get your child to leave any toys behind, as toys at the dinner table can destruct from eating and lead to tantrums if withdrawn during the mealtime. If your child throws tantrums unless they have a toy in their hand, it is ok to handover a small toy or a cutlery to just get them to the chair, they tend to forget about the toy after they see the food. If they still insist on having the toy on the table, you can do a pretend play, where you put their toy next to a plate and make it pretend eat for few seconds, as your child might be using the toy as a safe object to bring to mealtime.
  7. Exercise their mouth, by introducing games and toys that can help with muscle movement during playtime such as blowing bubbles or on musical instruments, sucking on straws, lollipops, or water bottles with ‘sport tops, biting and chewing liquorice, toys designed to improve jaw strength, or toffee bars.
  8. Empathy: remember your child does not want to be difficult, and they want to have a good time enjoying their meal, so if in some days they show extra sensitivity, try to remember they might be going through something you might not understand at the time. My toddler was a 3 year-old fussy-eater experiencing speech delay, he could not communicate with me when he was teething and the only sign he showed was luck of appetite, he kept pushing the food for few days, and I thought he was just being a brat! I got frustrated as I thought all the work that I have done to introduce new foods has failed and he went back to pushing the food away. I did not understand what he was experiencing or the physical teething pain he was enduring during mealtime that triggered his behaviour to refuse food, and cause tears and tantrums when I kept asking him to eat (repeatedly!).  I have come to learn, that sometime just giving him a hug and let him be, was the best thing I can do in these situations.


Disclaimer: Please note that all the links to different products in this article show products that I the author actually purchased and tried. They are not sponsored or intended for any advertisement or influence of any kind, and it is completely up to you my dear reader to use the knowledge in this article as you like.


If you like this article on fussy eating, why not check out more from the Parenting category.

Disclaimer: The content of all our articles is protected by the Terms & Conditions policy. For license of content, please reach out to us directly, our information are on the contact us page.

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