Nutrition is important for children's physical development and psychological well-being. When a mother stops breastfeeding and her child starts to eat solid food, he will gradually learn to feed himself. Learning to eat by themselves is important for children’s sense of autonomy and fine motor skill development. They also get a chance to socialise when they eat at a table with other people. The transition from being fed by someone to feeding themselves might be difficult for children, but there are ways to make this transition easier for both children and parents. Here are some good ground rules:
- Don't rush children who are learning to eat using cutlery. They won't be as capable as adults and you shouldn't get angry with them because they accidentally spill their food. Instead you should focus on gently correcting their mistakes and teaching them how to use cutlery properly.
- Children shouldn't be humiliated for accidentally vomiting, defecating, urinating or passing wind. Turning these situations into a joke can make children feel ashamed or lower their self-esteem.
- If a child doesn't want to eat, don't force them. Children should take a bit of initiative and do what’s best for them. The importance of nutrition, and eating proper meals, should be explained to them. If they persist in not eating, simply let them know that they won't get any more food until the next mealtime.
- Children should be treated as adults when it comes to eating. Apart from special cases (such as when they're ill or the food isn't suitable for them), they should eat the same meals as adults.
- The appearance of meals is important. At least one meal a day should be presented in a way that will appeal to children. Colourful plates and colourful food make eating fun.
- The focus should never be on what and how the child is eating, but on the family having breakfast/lunch/dinner together. The family should spend quality time together at the table.
- Parents should support the development of fine motor skills including chewing, holding a spoon, wiping one's mouth and spearing food with a fork. Children should be helped when necessary.
- Children should sit at the table with the rest of the family, and finish their food in that time. Even if they've stopped eating, they should remain at the table.
- Parents shouldn't be too prescriptive about children's behaviour at mealtimes. It's natural for children to act playfully at the table.
- Parents and family members should be respectful of each other’s decisions and rules in order to maintain consistency. If there's a disagreement, it should be discussed later.
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