Any child can be a fussy eater. But refusing foods is common if your child has special educational needs or additional learning needs. Sometimes you may struggle to get them to eat. This can be stressful and difficult at times, but you can try a few different things to help support them.
If your child is a fussy eater but doesn’t have special educational needs, the causes and what tips that can help will probably be different.
Neurodivergent children often experience senses such as the taste, smell, sight and feel of food in a different way to other children. They may also react strongly to food and mealtimes for a variety of other reasons (like environment). This can apply if your child has autism, sensory processing disorder, executive function disorder or dyspraxia.
Problems with eating are also common for children with global developmental delay. This is when a child doesn’t reach developmental milestones at expected times. They may take longer to learn behaviour around mealtimes than other children the same age.
Your child might:
Every child reacts in their own way to feelings of unhappiness or overwhelm. Notice how your child behaves when food is around. They may cry, throw something, or become quiet. Sometimes you’ll need to wait before you try to get them to eat something.
Learning to spot the warning signs over time will help you think about how to take the pressure off.
It can help to adapt your mealtimes or what you offer your child to allow them to feel relaxed. You could:
It may feel impossible to introduce new foods and you might worry about the impact your child’s behaviour is having on their health. Try to be patient and remember that it may take time for their behaviour to change.
Be aware of timings and what state your child is in when you’re asking them to eat. It’s OK to change your routine or where you eat if it helps your child to try more food, even if this is different to what other families are doing. Don’t worry if something doesn’t go well. Try again the next day.
If you can, avoid putting pressure on them. They may pick up on any anxious feelings you have and be less likely to eat.
If you’re worried about your child, speak to your GP. You may be able to ask for a referral to a dietician, who should be able to assess and treat dietary issues.
If your child is older, BEAT has a helpline for eating disorders.
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