Updated: Sep 26, 2020
The connection between parenting and feeding is inseparable. This behaviour predisposes the foundation for life-long eating habits and health outcomes. Moreover, both feeding and parenting improve the child's physical, social, cognitive, behavioural development and well-being.
Child eating behaviours manifest in the context of child characteristics, such as temperament, and broader developmental tasks, such as autonomy, separation, self-regulation, and acquisition of motor skills. The relationship between parent feeding and child or child and parent eating is strongly rooted in culture and tradition.
Food parenting is considered to include feeding style and feeding practices. Feeding style consists of the broad emotional climate of the feeding dynamic, whereas feeding practices are the specific strategies and actions such as “when, what, and how” of child feeding.
However, many parents experience stress and anxiety related to the parenting task, including feeding the children. Parents, particularly mothers, report considerable anxiety related to feeding, with a third to half of the mothers reporting that their otherwise healthy child is difficult to feed or fussy.
Usually, food refusal is a main cause for concern in parents which creates behaviours such as pressure, reward, and restriction. Neo-phobia or rejection of novel foods is present from weaning and strengthens with child autonomy to peak at 2–5 years of age. However, it can be modified by early feeding experiences such as repeated neutral exposure to facilitate familiarity and acceptance.
Whereas, food fussiness (FF) or “picky eating” includes refusal of both familiar and unfamiliar foods. It is an eating behaviour reported by 10–50% of parents and a source of considerable concern and conflict in families.
Another popular behaviour is using food for comfort, distract, and calm. However, these feeding practices and behaviours are ineffective and even counterproductive because they teach children to eat for reasons unrelated to appetite. Non-responsive feeding practices are associated with poor outcomes in terms of child-eating behaviour, diet quality and weight status.
Structure practices, such as family mealtimes and routines, also provide important opportunities for socialization to family food practices and traditions. Differently from eating alone, parents have reported an increase in food intake of their kids while they are eating with their parents the same food.
In summary, effective food parenting practices have the capacity to influence positively the development of early taste preference, texture tolerance and appetite regulation that lay the foundation for life-long healthy food preferences and eating behaviours.
Source: Feeding Practices and Parenting: A Pathway to Child Health and Family Happiness.
Lynne Allison Daniels 2019