Can you tell what their facial expressions and gestures mean?
I recently went to a conference on “parenting for resilience” given by Professor Louise Newman, Director of the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Women’s Hospital. One takeaway for me was how, as parents, we sometimes misinterpret a baby’s facial expressions, or gestures particularly as our own trauma or difficulties get in the way.
During this talk, I kept thinking about the parents I work with as a Fussy Eater Specialist. So much can go wrong analysing a child’s appetite or a child’s dislikes for specific foods. This may negatively impact the way we feed our children. Since feeding can be challenging, it’s often mums who question their capacity “I don’t have enough milk”, their adequacy “my child does not like the food I prepare” or their child’s ability to learn “he will never like this food”.
Here are 5 interpretations we should challenge to set our children on the right track with eating.
1- The baby is crying, therefore it is hungry.
Not always, they may need comfort or are perhaps tired, overwhelmed, or over-stimulated. Keeping a fairly regular schedule, whilst feeding on demand, should enable the better reading of hunger cues. These include sucking or smacking lips, putting fists in the mouth, being excited about sitting in the high chair, reaching for food or a spoon and opening their mouth at the sight of food.
2- The baby grimaced when tasting, therefore it does not like the food.
Babies are born with an innate liking for sweetness, but saltiness, acidity and bitterness are acquired tastes. So it is normal for a baby to grimace, but it does not necessarily reflect a lifelong dislike. Exposing a child repeatedly to a variety of tastes will allow the magic, or rather, the learning to happen.
3- The baby is spitting out the food, therefore it does not like the food.
In reality, they are experimenting with the food and managing their own bite size.
4- The child is pushing away the food, therefore it does not like the food.
Children may be tired, over-stimulated or simply full. It’s best not to insist on feeding at that moment.
5- The toddler throws food on the ground, therefore it does not like the food or is naughty.
Toddlers may be overwhelmed by the food in front of them, they could also be full, or simply learning about gravity; whilst getting quite the reaction from you!
If you find it hard to read your child’s behaviour, it may be time to speak to someone who can help. I find that often my clients were stuck right there. In the meantime, it may be wise not to over scrutinise your child’s facial expressions. In those challenging moments, can you get your partner to support you? Go out, breathe some fresh air, and come back ready to display a reassuring or neutral face, as needed.
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