Ready to go - Helping children to eat properly

(Video uploaded 03/2018)

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Title:Ready to go - Helping children to eat properly

Helping children to eat properly

Heading: Healthy eating for 6 to 24 month old children - Ready to Go - Helping children to eat properly

Sub-heading: Setting up mealtime routines

Hostess(Ms Anna Wu): Toddlers are active and always on the go. Getting them to sit down to eat their meal properly may be a headache for some parents. Hedi's mother faced this problem before.

Hedi's mother: Before, I spent a lot of time nagging her; but she wouldn't sit down and eat. I worried that she might not eat enough. Recently the nurse told me that drinking too much milk might be the cause for her Hedi's problem. Cutting back on milk has made Hedi less difficult and more willing to eat at mealtime. It is easier for Hedi to sit well and stay focused on eating when she is seated in a high chair. After she joined us in eating dinner and lunch, she quickly learnt to scoop food with the spoon. In the past, I usually had to feed her before we had dinner. Now I can feed her at the same time that I have my own meal. This saves me time and she eats a bit more.

Hostess(Doctor Amy Fung): You should set up a mealtime routine, such as sitting down to eat and dining with the family, so that children can watch how others eat. This helps children to learn how to behave and how to feed themselves.

Sub-heading: Making mealtime preparation

Hostess(Ms Anna Wu): Many parents are not aware that children need a little bit of time to prepare themselves before having a meal.

Narration: When children are not fully awake or are in the middle of playing, they won't be able to switch to eating, and may even throw a temper tantrum if they are suddenly asked to sit still and eat. Ten minutes before mealtime, you should tell him that the meal is ready. Carry out pre-meal preparation with him, such as tidying up, turning off the TV and washing his hands. Children tend to be impatient. You should get the table and food ready before seating him in a high chair.

Sub-heading: Responding to your child during mealtime

Hostess(Ms Anna Wu): Children at around one year old are eager to feed themselves. Parents should give them a spoon and a bowl to try.

Narration: At about one year old, children like to dip the spoon into the bowls as if they are eating. Later, they can scoop food with a spoon and eat. Around two years old, most children eat with a spoon by themselves. Children show various feeding cues during meals. They are eager to eat during the first 10-20 minutes. When they are full, they will slow down, keep the food inside their mouth, take little notice of the food or just play with it. They may also shake their heads, or attempt to leave their seats. At that time, you should clean his hands, and point to his tummy, showing him the way to indicate “I'm done!”. Then you could let your child leave the dining table. When children are full and parents push them to eat more, some children may still accept the food, but they will keep it inside their mouths without swallowing it. Extending a meal too long or pressuring your child to keep eating does not work well, as he probably will not eat more once he is full and has left his seat.

Hostess(Doctor Amy Fung): Small children do not eat a lot at each meal. They usually eat enough within about 20 minutes. Parents should know that once children have had enough to eat, they don't want to eat more. Usually, 30 minutes is enough time for a child to eat a meal.

Narration: When children have not eaten well during a meal, some parents may give milk or a snack soon afterwards. Over time, children may learn to bargain for a preferred food by eating little at the meals. This makes it more difficult for children to learn to eat well. Instead, you could consider offering your child's next scheduled snack a bit earlier.

Sub-heading: Developing proper mealtime behaviour

Hostess(Ms Anna Wu): Sometimes, even when you have made all the preparations, your child may not behave during a meal. How can you teach your child to behave well during mealtimes?

Mrs. Francis Au, Clinical Psychologist, Family Health Service of the Department of Health: Children love attention. You should pay a lot of attention to them and praise them when they are being cooperative, so that they know you like their behaviour. However, sometimes parents give attention to their children when they misbehave. This will indirectly encourage children to continue the problem behavior. Then it will become very difficult for your child to develop good eating habits. If you want your child to learn to eat nicely, the best way is to praise him at once when he behaves well. When he is cooperative, stays seated, feeds himself, or is willing to try new food, you can give him a smile, pat him or give him a thumbs-up, saying “well done”. When he knows that “staying seated and feeding myself” can gain your attention and praise, he will keep doing it. When your child behaves in a way that is attention-seeking but causes no harm, such as playing and spitting out the food or whining, you should keep calm. Don't give him attention and don't give him a smile. At first his behaviour might get worse. You should keep ignoring him so that he knows that such behavior won't draw your attention. Then he will stop eventually. Once he stops whining, you should give him attention right away, for example, tell him to eat his food. When he is cooperative, you should praise him by words or gestures. For a one- to- two- year old child, these methods are good enough to let him know which behaviour you are happy with and which behaviour you don't accept. If all of the people taking care of the child should use the same methods to interact with him, this, in addition to the mealtime routines and preparation, will help ensure that the child learns more quickly that he must follow the rules at mealtime.