As an adult, it’s difficult to understand a food refusal problem in infants. My nephew recently started clenching his mouth shut when his mom tries to feed him, and she’s concerned that he isn’t getting enough nutrition. When we were visiting for dinner recently, our tummies grumbling with hunger, we were confused about why a hungry baby wouldn’t be excited to chow down. The reason an infant or toddler is refusing food is usually not because he isn’t hungry. Instead, it’s because there is a problem with the meal in the psychological sense. Unfortunately as a parent, your child’s refusal to eat might be entirely your fault.

Luckily, the problem is easy to correct. Studies show that babies often refuse to eat when their parents feed them separately. It is in our nature to be social creatures, so your baby will be happy when the whole family sits down together for a meal and he is included in the fun. Many parents find it easier to feed their baby early in the night and then prepare dinner for the rest of the family separately later on while baby is relaxing or napping elsewhere. If you’ve fallen into this habit, there’s a good chance you’re also struggling with food refusal. To get your child excited about eating again, only feed him when it’s mealtime with the rest of the family when possible. He will feel like part of the group and you’ll probably even trick him into thinking he’s eating the same foods as you.

Studies also show that babies who are refusing to eat to much better when distractions are removed from the situation. If you are trying to feed your baby in front of the TV, computer, or other electronic device he is gazing at, he will refuse to eat because he is not interested in multitasking. By removing electronic distractions from the mealtime equation, your child will be focused and interested in eating. Also, you will prevent the lifelong habit of mindless eating from forming, which will in turn prevent obesity and heart disease.

Baby food does seem gross sometimes, but your child should never completely refuse it when it’s time to eat. If your infant or toddler seems uninterested in eating, try working on the perception of mealtime. Let his pediatrician know if he still won’t eat even after you’ve tried to make it a better experience.

Source: Gemma L Mitchell et al: Parental Influences on Children’s Eating Behavior and Characteristics of Successful Parent-Focused Interventions. Appetite Volume 60 Issue 1 pp. 85-94 January 2013