Child development and mealtime – Part 2

Support a child’s emotional development during meals.

How can you help a child develop emotionally? You can start helping children develop healthy emotions during meals. To develop emotionally there are things that young children must learn how to do, and these things can be supported during mealtimes. Part one of this article discusses children developing a sense of hunger cues during mealtime.

To develop emotionally, Michigan State University Extension recommends that children must learn to do the following.

  • Trust their caregivers. Caregivers include: Parents, grandparents, child care providers, babysitters, teachers, etc.
  • Achieve independence. This can be done by allowing children to make their own decisions.
  • Gain self-control and respect. Children should practice self-control and learn to respect others and themselves.
  • Feel safe. Children need to feel safe and secure, this will help them to try new things and have new experiences.

Team Nutrition Iowa supports that mealtimes serve as a time for emotional development. Here are five common sense tips to help children accomplish the tasks to develop emotionally:

  1. Encourage children to feed themselves. Yes, even if it gets messy.
  2. Allow children to say “No.” Let children say no to foods and to combine or separate foods as they choose.
  3. Serve child-sized portions. You can also allow children to serve themselves and to take seconds if they wish.
  4. Provide finger foods. Help children to be successful during mealtime by providing foods that they can eat at their ability level.
  5. Encourage children to be a part of mealtime tasks. If they are capable, allow children to help set the table, serve their own food, wipe their hands and mouths, and clear their dishes.

Children who are able to be a part of planning and preparing meals, as well as feeding themselves, learn the necessary skills to develop emotionally. Next time you think mealtime with children is too messy; remember you are helping support their emotional development.

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