Physiological Need for Food in the Child

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The newborn is unable to feed by itself. It is powerless to survive if the environment does not help it to satisfy this basic life necessity. Nutrition is the first thing the child comes into contact with his parents. Contact that is important for its physical, as well as later social development. The way it is fed, affects its emotional development. In fact, with the diet, the child experiences intense stimuli for the first time through the sense of taste and feeling of satiety. It experiences them as a pleasure if it is fed or discontented if it is hungry.

For proper physical development, it is important that the child receives a sufficient amount of food and properly prepared meals. Healthy emotional development begins with nutrition, the meal is already experienced as a pleasure and tranquility. And for its later social development, it is important that the mother is more likely to be in physical contact with him, in order to feel a love which as an emotion plays important role in the shaping the character.

About the diet of the newborn, this rule should be followed: the child should be nourished daily in equal periods of time. The number of meals will depend on the state of health and satiety of the newborn. If the child is visibly well-fed, and does not react nervously due to a lack of food (lactation), five meals a day is sufficient. If it is nervous, crying and anxious, then the number of meals from 6 to 7 meals a day should be increased. Most often, the pediatrician determines the child’s diet by regular controls, and the mother should be consistent with those recommendations.

There are experts who claim that the child should not be fed according to a pre-established regime. They believe that this is a kind of coercion, and every compulsory measure is an obstacle to its emotional development. Therefore, they suggest that the child be fed when it asks it with crying, not when the mother thinks it necessary. They justify this method of nutrition by claiming that the child is most often crying because it is hungry, and the unpleasant sensation grows proportionally as the time passes since the last breastfeeding. The claims go so far that they say that the discontent of the child due to untimely meals leaves a trail that implants a negative psychological experience for it and later for its position in society.

However, these claims are inconsistent with the physiology of the child, neither with the principles of appropriate upbringing, nor with any other life necessity. Therefore, such claims are considered to be wrong. Primarily, surely we will not let the baby cry because it’s hungry, knowing that such an intensely unpleasant feeling due to starvation leaves consequences in its psychological development. But that does not mean that we should abandon the principles of the proper upbringing and any other order in the nutrition because of such claims.

The baby’s weeping because of hunger can be avoided if the amount of milk that the child receives while breast feeding during each meal is regularly controlled. If the baby is constantly crying, very long period before the next meal, then it is a warning that the quantity of meals (milk) is too little. The consultations with a pediatrician will demonstrate whether it is more appropriate to preserve the formula or to reduce the time interval between meals. If it is concluded that the amount of mother’s milk is not sufficient, then the additional feeding is inevitable. However, it is essential to ensure that the newborn with each meal is sieved and does not feel hungry until the next meal. This way of dosing creates a rhythm of nutrition, and avoids the possibility of an unneeded premature meal and, contrary to that, causing negative emotions due to insufficient amount of milk per meal.

Consistency in the child’s rhythm of nutrition is required for physiological reasons. The child’s digestive organs need 3 to 4 hours to process the food. Only when the previous meal is processed by the stomach; then, without difficulty, the intestines can easily accept the next amount of food. If the next meal is taken before the previous one is processed, then the organs are overloaded and various disruptions to their functions occur. In doing so, the child experiences as unpleasant stimuli in the stomach, and the result is anxiety, crying, vomiting, restless sleep or diarrhea. For normal function of the stomach and intestines, they need to work with a certain rhythm, according to the principle of proper, proportional and timely diet, distributed nutrition after periods when the digestive system works and when resting. This principle should be followed, otherwise coercion is applied to the natural needs and flows of the newborn.

Physiological rhythm also occurs in other life functions of the newborn, e.g. in the cycle when the child is awake and sleeping. Although infants spend most of their days in sleeping, the night must be fully committed to sleep, and periods when they are awake to be only through the day. In this way, the child prepares for a proper cycle of eating and sleep, which will be characteristic for its whole life. So, from the beginning of his life he has to get used to the meals at night. In the first evenings, the child will most likely be weeping, because of the feeling of hunger, but soon there will be a turn. After several nights, there should already be a continuous sleep of 8 hours. If from the start a child develops a habit of night meals, then this habit is very difficult to root out later.

Maintaining an order in the diet is the first opportunity parents have to establish a discipline in the child’s life. Later, it will be much easier to accept the rest of the rules for adaptation to the environment. The sooner parents establish the parents the easier the adaptation for the child further. The inconsistency in the baby’s diet is a considerable major educational mistake that is detrimental to the child’s further development and is due to the parents’ excessive leniency towards him. If parents are not consistent with the rules that impose order at the outset, it will be much harder later. Incompatibility also contributes to a sub-segment of overriding irregularities.

Breastfeeding is the first chance when a mother can awaken the positive experiences and emotions of a child. Physical contact between mother and child during breastfeeding is of paramount importance to the child, the opportunity to feel cared for. Not only physical contact, but the mother’s voice, the tone to which he addresses, the expression of the face, and the tender touch. All of this is the foundation of the emotional capital that will later enable the child to love other people, to adapt and to become a socially useful person.

By stopping the breastfeeding and switching to a mixed diet, the child faces a new challenge, which is not so small as the parents think. The child should get used to the new type of food such as soup, porridge and other types of pasta. Every child has different needs to adapt to the new diet. Some children adapt faster, others slower, there is no rule here.

The duty of the parents is to be patient and not do any pressure to speeding up the transition period of the adjustment. If the child does not like some taste from a meal, the parents should not insist on eating the whole meal. It should be allowed to stay hungry. Nothing will happen to it, it will not get sick, it will not lag behind if he or she is not 100% sieved a day or two. In doing so, with this measure, the child will realize something useful, it will get acquainted with the natural consequences of the refusal to eat, that is, it will know what is the famine like. And when the food is offered again, he will eat the food that he had refused some time ago.

Adapting the child to a new type of food should be permanent, consistent and patient, peaceful and friendly. When the time comes for a meal, the parent should encourage the child to eat. The act of feeding should be accompanied by optimism of creating a pleasant atmosphere, perhaps with a dose of humor or another inventive way for the child to experience it as enjoyable. If, however, the child refuses to eat, there should be no pressure on it by raising the voice, anger or reproach. On the next attempt when the child is offered the same meal, the chances of eating it are increasing drastically, primarily because it has not eaten enough during the previous meal, and additionally, it does not associate that taste with the unpleasant experience gained due to the previous pressure from the failed first or second attempt.

Thinking that the child must eat every meal, many parents are too frightened, nervous or rude while feeding the child. Frequently they use force if the child refuses. As a method of force, their nose is squeezed to open their mouth and start eating or drinking what is remained. The parents often scare them with doctor’s advices or with a character from the TV or a stern relative, or they are offended. Due to such pressure, the meal ends with the child’s weeping, groping, or vomiting.

Treating the child in such a manner has multiple negative consequences. In their consciousness, the diet links them with a sense of discomfort and fear because of the violent behavior of the parents. Such actions cause resistance to food that can become so strong that prevails even the natural urge for food. The child then refuses the food even though it is hungry. Unpleasant eating experience can reduce the appetite or completely destroy it. Violent methods applied by some parents arouse resistance of the child against them and later, defiance. At the outset, such violence is limited to a diet that gradually spreads over time to the rest of the everyday life, eventually becoming a general defect of the child to the parents.

The conflict between the child and the parents deepens if the child is forced to continue eating. Sadly, many parents do not pay attention to the consequences of eating by force, such as vomiting, and then they become more severe, thinking they were too lenient toward the child. Then the child’s diet turns into an infinite torture that sometimes has the features of sadism.

There are instances when the mother overheats the same dish several times and forces the child to finish its portion that has lost the taste or the food has turned bad. Or, as an extreme example, when a parent makes the child eat what it has vomited.

The long-term conflict between the child and the parents due to the diet often results in chronic malnutrition of a child which as a reason can lead to slowing down of his growth and serious endangerment of his health. There are children who, because of the of the parents mistakes, the food becomes repugnant to them, and at a later age even suffer from a neurotic lack of appetite. It is likely that a psychogenic dietary brake, a single lack of appetite caused by negative emotions, leaves lasting consequences in the function of the stomach. Many cases of poor gastric food processing or excessive secretion of gastric acid are of psychogenetic origin.

There are other negative examples when parents try to speed up the adaptation of the child to the new type and diet. Sometimes they beg the child to eat his meal, flattering it with various promises, they tell stories, sing songs or perform whole performances in front of them, just to make them eat. Or, during one meal, the mother repeatedly changes the type of food, until the child decides to eat some of the food that is offered.

Such acts, in turn, reflect excessive leniency and unnecessary spoiling of the child. With these actions, the child acquires the idea that it can impose its will on the environment, to rule with the parents and to play with them. Therefore, it becomes a capricious, picky, bored with constant demands, harasses the parents with various fabrications, until the parents lose their patience, and this ends with quarrels and tears. In this case, when the child is too much tolerated about the diet, it understands it as a way to play with the parents, not as a natural need for food, and in the same time, the parents lose their authority over it in the process.

An intelligent child can lead parents to senseless actions. Typical examples are when the child will make the closest, most often grandmother, grandfather and parents compete who will satisfy its whimsicalities. The child is an opportunist by nature, and is usually driven by the line of lower resistance. Once it succeeds to impose itself to the surroundings, it will tend keeping on that situation in the family at any cost.

This kind of example can be recognized in situations where parents are preparing a meal for the child. It, in turn, begins with asking a number of unreasonable things, as a compromise to eat. It does not sit on a table as it should, often changing the location while one of the parents follows it with the plate trying to make it take a bite. And when the parent succeeds, then the child complains about the type of food and starts picking. And when it is offered a new kind of food, it also asks for something completely new, just to avoid eating. Often such a magical circle ends with frustration both with parents and the child. The child, because it will have to eat what is offered to it at the end, and the parents, because patience is already lost.

If a child is already used to defiance when time comes for a meal, to pick up or to ask for exceptions, it is necessary to take measures to correct such behavior. Above all, parents need to be resolved and consistent, but calm, friendly and good-natured. If a child is old enough, one should be allowed to feed himself without anyone’s help. If they refuse or start playing with the food, parents need, calmly and without raising the voice, but with a dose of seriousness, to warn them that this is not the way they should behave while at the table. Perhaps a suitable joke will help to understand the concept of the breakfast, lunch or dinner, when all together are seated to eat. Because there is no universal approach, parents need to find the best solution that will bring success, while not bringing themselves and the child in a situation of frustration and loss of their authority.

If the child continues with improper behavior, without much pomp and emphasis on the situation, parents should remove the food or get it from the table, indicating that they count on the others with their behavior. If after that, the child insists on the provocations, because there’s not reaction to its whimsicality –to make the others do what it wants, then the parents should remove it from the room, while remaining calm and explaining why it was removed. However, if the child protests the measure, the parents should not react, because it is an attempt by the child to avoid the consequences of his behavior.

When a child is removed from the dining table or from the room, due to undisciplined behavior, it is necessary to be given the opportunity to correct it. If the parents see that the child understands the newly emerged situation, it is okay to offer him again to return to their place and to continue with the unfinished meal, without mentioning the previous outbursts, but to encourage the corrected behavior positively.

If a child refuses food at a regular meal, their plate should be removed, and the parents should refrain from any quarrel about their defiance and an explanation of how he should behave while at the table. Instead, parents should leave the child to wait for the next regular meal, without getting a meal if he requests so. If he asks for it, they should be ignored. With this measure, parents can expect that at the next meal the child will have an appetite if in the meantime they did not give him anything else to sooth the appetite and by that he will not eat the next meal.

With these procedures, parents carry out several important settings for the child’s proper upbringing:

  • They allow the child to feel the natural consequences of his inappropriate behavior (in this case – hunger)
  • They avoid personal conflict with the child without fuss and quarrel
  • They preserve their authority over the child for consistency in the decisions they’ve made
  • They give the child the opportunity to correct and preserve his reputation and self-esteem

Sometimes, children’s mischief while on the table and eating can be interrupted with a kind of humorous thought that a child does not expect, and thus distract them from what they are doing in order to focus on the reason for sitting there, and all this to pass without the use of coercion or the use of parental authority.

During the second year of life, the child is already beginning to show an initiative to feed itself. It tries to use its own dish and cup. At the same time, parents should encourage and stimulate them in their efforts, until the complete independence. This increases his self-esteem in an important life-function – the ability to feed themselves. The parents should not force, because the self-initiative is the surest sign that the psychological apparatus is ready to accept, perfect and practice this activity. At the moment when the child has already expressed a desire to learn something new, it should be supported and given the opportunity to perfect that activity.

Therefore, the child should be allowed to feed himself independently, although for some time it will be slow and uninterrupted. In any case, parents must be patient and should not be disturbed if the child has stopped themselves or the table they eat. If the child first takes his hand to put at least two or three teaspoons of food in his mouth, the child will be extremely indulgent and with that minimal success. This is what you will encourage in your further attempts to be more successful with the new skill. Of course, for such small successes, parents need to praise and encourage the full upgrading of this skill. Soon, the child will master the technique of handling cutlery and become an equal individual with the rest of the family members at the dining table.

In order to maintain the child’s appetite, parents need to adjust the amount of food to the individual needs of the child. The more the child moves away from breastfeeding, the slower it grows. Therefore, it is necessary to gradually adapt the amount of food proportionally to the age. In addition, each child has different metabolism. A child with faster metabolism needs more food than a child with slower metabolism.

Therefore, it is not possible for each child to determine in advance how much food is needed for a certain age per meal. If we offer the child to eat, and without any coercion, it will, instinctively, eat as much as it needs. Rigorous compliance with the nutrition scheme is unnatural and is therefore wrong. Such charts may suggest that parents forcefully impose excessive amounts of food than the child needs, or vice versa, to deprive him of the amount of the meal. In both cases emotional disturbances could be caused, as well as neurotic reactions of the child.

The child’s appetite will be bigger if the diet is as diverse as possible. Every child in the menu finds its favorite dishes and dishes that it dislikes. But parents should stick to the principle of versatility in the practice, rather than to be guided by a line of lower resistance, and to prepare only those meals that the child is fond of. The monotonous food is incomplete. There is no such meal that contains all the necessary nutrients that the child needs for normal growth and development.

Food should be well-prepared and tasty, for the child to accept it. If the food is insipid, surely it will reject it. Also, it does not mean that if the prepared food is tasty for the parents, it will be delicious for the child. Parents, with their example and with their appetite, can motivate both the child and vice versa, the overwhelming parents can also demotivate with their example.

Fresh air also contributes to the good appetite of the child. A child who rests and stays indoors usually has a lower appetite than a child who is active and outdoors. Sugar-rich dishes also contribute to reduced appetite, which the child eats between meals, such as candy, chocolate and the like.

When the child has no appetite, it should not be forced to eat, it is necessary to find the reason. Frequent are the cases when the child does not eat because of fatigue, either physical or psychic. Sometimes school problems may also be a cause of decreased appetite, such as failure, disappointment, and the likes. But lack of appetite can be the first sign that a child is ill.

Therefore, parents needs to know their child well so that they can act promptly and appropriately, and for any doubt and uncertainty about their behavior, to consult a pediatrician in a timely manner.