Is my foster child ‘just fussy’?
“Fussy eating is not a child problem, it’s a parent problem. The parent is the one who has an abnormal behaviour. Because telling someone “finish your veggies” or “a little bit for Dad, a little bit for Granny” or “Brrrr Brrr look at the ‘plane!” are not normal behaviours. Stop it now!” Carlos González, 2012.
Trying to figure out reasons why your child won’t eat, is difficult and often not easy to identify, but stop and think what they won’t eat. Is it an assumed healthy, balanced nutritional diet served at mealtimes, (vegetables, meat, fish etc) or chocolate, sweets biscuits and cakes. When parents and carers stop and reflect on what their child will eat in a day, you may be pleasantly surprised at what they do actually consume.
Example of why a foster child won’t eat
There are many reasons all children might not eat, but here are some common examples.
- Testing the boundaries.
- Not wanting to get messy.
- Getting lots of attention for not eating.
- Not feeling well, teething etc
- Have they just had a growth spurt where they’ve eaten a lot and are now slowing down?
- Worries regarding school, friends or family.
- Learn from example, i.e. from the moment finger food is introduced and before, children watch what a parent and carer is eating. They may not have the ability to recognise if it is a vegetable or chocolate, but will remember if you have eaten it.
- Portion size: is there too much expected of a child’s appetite, they may be full but in your eyes, they’ve not eaten enough or cleared their plate.
Foster children may have a complicated relationship with meals
Furthermore it is important to recognise that children who may come into your care, may not have had;
- An opportunity to try different foods and therefore may be unsure of what is presented at mealtimes.
- Experienced mealtimes as a happy experience and may view mealtimes as stressful, a cause of anxiety, frightening and unhappy memories.
- A regular mealtime routine, grazed during the day or ate when food was available to them, (financial crisis may have restricted meals being provided).
- Experiences of sitting at a table to eat a meal. Therefore the child may find sitting down for the duration of a meal difficult and will get up and down, fidget and walk around eating.
Ways you can help your foster child to eat
Great Ormond Street Hospital has some recommendations on how you can encourage your children to eat.
- Write a food diary to log what your child eats during the day.
- Question is it just at home they won’t eat or friends, family members and school. If so look at the reasons why this may be and look for a pattern in behaviours, i.e. seeking attention from parent/carer.
- Reflect on your body and verbal language used, is the child receiving a lot of attention for not eating and thriving on negative attention rather than positive.
- Reflect on mealtimes, do you all sit down and eat as a family, again children learn from example.
- Make portion sizes smaller, it is always better to start small and then have more.
- Avoid grazing opportunities in between meals, which may suppress appetites.
- Try not to compare your child with others, we are all different.
- Stick to a routine with three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and tea. Make sure they sit in the same place to eat as often as possible, to help them feel comfortable and secure.
- Studies have shown that some toddlers need to be given a new food more than ten times before they will accept it.
- If your child will eat only a few foods, build on these. For instance if they like potato, try different types such as mash and roast potatoes. If they reject something they previously enjoyed, don’t worry. Introduce it again later.
- Try to keep your cool even if a meal hasn’t been eaten. If you are anxious and tense, your child will pick up on this and it could make the situation worse. So don’t make a fuss – just take the plate away without comment.
Remember if a child has come into your care, you may need to slowly introduce;
- Different meals they may not be used to eating.
- Be patient with progress and give praise if a child tries a new food.
- Try to make mealtimes as enjoyable as possible.
Finding support for you and your foster child
If you are still worried or concerned, you can talk through this more with your child’s Health Visitor (age appropriate), GP, social worker or placement manager. You can also contact AFA Fostering directly for help and support.
González, Carlos. (2012) My Child Won’t Eat!: How to enjoy mealtimes without worry London: Pinter and Martin LTD.