The way a parent feeds their child can have a significant impact on the child’s development, both physically and emotionally. Feeding time allows parents to focus on adequate and balanced nutrition, it helps them to encourage healthy eating patterns, portion control, and incorporating a diverse diet contributing to the child’s physical well-being. The feeding time not only helps parents to focus on the child’s physical growth but it is also a great opportunity to bond emotionally with the child. The feeding process can strengthen the parent-child bond, contributing to a secure attachment.
Watching Screens like (TV, mobile, iPads, or laptops) during meals can distract children from paying attention to their hunger and fullness cues, potentially leading to overeating or undereating thereby making them prone to malnourishment in the form of obesity due to overeating and nutritional deficiency disorders due to improper and inadequate eating. Encouraging children to focus on their food without distractions helps them develop mindful eating habits, promoting better awareness of taste, texture, and satisfaction. Without the distraction of television, children are more likely to pay attention to the food they are eating. This awareness can contribute to a healthier relationship with food and an understanding of nutritional choices. Watching TV while eating can create an association between screen time and emotional comfort, potentially leading to unhealthy eating habits. Without distractions, children may be more mindful of their food choices, making it easier for parents to guide them toward nutritious options.
TV commercials can influence food preferences. TV ads are designed to be persuasive and often use appealing visuals, catchy jingles, and emotionally resonant messages to create a positive association with the promoted food product. Some TV ads promote foods that are high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. The constant exposure to such advertisements may contribute to an increased preference for less nutritious options, potentially impacting overall dietary choices and health. Children, in particular, can be highly susceptible to the influence of TV ads. Advertisements that target children often feature colourful and fun visuals, appealing characters, and may include toys or promotional tie-ins, all of which can shape their preferences and influence their food choices. Avoiding TV during meals reduces exposure to these influences.
Responsive and nurturing feeding practices can help build trust and emotional security in the child. Creating a positive and enjoyable mealtime experience fosters a healthy relationship with food. A pleasant atmosphere during meals encourages children to view eating as a positive and social activity. Allowing children to explore and develop self-feeding skills promotes independence. Gradually introducing age-appropriate utensils and encouraging self-feeding helps children build confidence and motor skills. Involving children in food-related decisions, such as choosing snacks or helping with meal preparation, supports their autonomy and decision-making skills.
Meals are often social occasions. Meal time gives opportunity for the family to bond and interact while watching screen during meal time can detract from this important time for conversation and connection.. Family meals provide opportunities for children to learn social skills, manners, and communication.
Forcing a child to eat or using food as a reward or punishment can create negative associations with eating. It’s essential to respect a child’s appetite and preferences. Creating a relaxed and stress-free meal environment contributes to positive associations with food. Stressful mealtimes can lead to eating difficulties or emotional challenges.
Some tips to reduce and gradually stop Tv time during feeding time that parents can follow are :
1) Create a consistent feeding routine that does not involve TV time
2) Designate a specific area for meals that is free from distractions
3) Children often model their behaviour after adults. If they see you prioritizing meals without TV, they are more likely to follow.
4) Use mealtime as an opportunity for family conversation. Engaging in discussions can make the meal more enjoyable, and children may be less inclined to watch TV.
5) If TV watching during meals is a well-established habit, consider gradually reducing the time spent watching.
6) Establish and communicate clear mealtime rules to your children and be consistent in enforcing them.
7) Engage children in meal preparation, allowing them to take an interest in the food being served. This involvement can create a sense of ownership and excitement about meals.
8) If you do allow screen time, monitor the content to ensure it is suitable for their age and does not interfere with the development of healthy eating habits.
It is important to note that these guidelines may vary based on individual family preferences and cultural practices. The key is to create a positive and mindful eating environment that supports the development of healthy habits and a positive relationship with food.
(The author, Dr. Himani Narula, is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician director and co-founder of Continua Kids.)