Food and eating challenges are a common concern for parents, which may have been made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Food and eating together with family and friends changed. Many children did not get the usual social experience of eating lunch with their school peers, due to being educated at home. For those children of keyworkers, who did attend school, their experience of lunch times was likely disrupted too- with a different environment, which could also cause worry, stress and anxiety.
Appetite and attitudes to eating fluctuates for children and young people, due to a range of factors and this is normal. When a young person feels pressure, problems can start to emerge. This pressure can result in a loss of appetite, or increased appetite and eating for comfort. Food worries can be linked to how a child feels about their appearance (eg body shape and size) or feelings of self esteem and their emotions. Sometimes food can be a coping strategy, or method by which to feel in control- when things are not. These coping strategies can spiral into more unhealthy eating patterns, for example binge eating, over exercising and restrictive practices.
How can I spot that my child is having difficulties with food?
Eating problems vary from one child to another, but the following signs could suggest a conversation about eating is appropriate:
- Eating unusually large quantities of food
- Repeated weigh ins
- Excessive exercise
- Changes in body weight or shape
- Restricted eating by type or amount of foods
- Negative self image about weight/appearance
- Avoiding eating with others
- Failure to grow
- Stress increases at meal times
How can I support my child when they are finding eating a challenge?
Make time and a safe space to listen to your child, regularly.
- Have regular family mealtimes (low stress conversations and keeping an eye on eating behaviour changes)
- If the eating problems continue and are impacting on how your child is coping day to day, seek health advice and support
- Support your child to do positive activities and reduce their isolation
- Support a structure and routine that reduces the unknown aspects of life
- If child has other symptoms due to the weight loss speak to your GP or 111 option 2 for mental health
- Take care of your health. Lead by example and ask for help with your own health
Where can I get more help from?