My child refuses to swallow food. What do I do?

My child refuses to swallow food. What do I do?

Eating should be an enjoyable affair. If your child refuses to eat, encourage him instead of resorting to punishment.

Q: I have a four-year-old granddaughter who goes to a day-care centre. Whenever she eats, she will take a long time to swallow her food. She will chew the food until it becomes a paste, yet she will refuse to swallow it.

Her parents have checked with some doctors and they said that this is her habit. Whenever she refuses to swallow her food during dinner time, her mother will take her into another room and insist that she swallow her food. Her mother will cane her and she will start crying. At times, she will even throw up the food that she has eaten.

Nevertheless, if you give her food that she loves, such as fruit or ice cream, there is hardly any problem. She can swallow it immediately. I am troubled by her condition and the fact that she can be heard crying every time during dinner.

When she eats out and does not swallow her food, she will get a caning when she gets home. It really pains me but I can’t do anything. Please advise me on what should be done to correct her eating habits.

A feeding problems are not uncommon in children and it usually takes much patience and understanding before they can be rectified. Eating should be an enjoyable experience.

It should not be something which one has to endure punishment for. Since your granddaughter is fine with eating fruit and ice cream, there should not be any issue with her swallowing process.

I believe that the family needs to relook her eating habits to find out the underlying cause of her refusal to swallow certain types of food at certain times, but not other types of food.

Her chewing and refusal to swallow may be an indication that she is either not hungry or she dislikes the taste or texture of the food that she has been offered.

To start, ensure that she is hungry at meal times and do not feed her snacks, fruits or milk before that.

Set some rules for her to follow, such as getting her to finish her meal before she gets any treats or desserts.

Getting her involved in preparing her meals may be a good way to ensure that she gets a say in what she eats, as long as the types of food are appropriate and healthy.

Having her eat together with the family so that she can learn good eating habits from the adults or her older siblings would help.

Encouragement would go a long way to correct her eating habits.

Punishment would worsen her experience with food further. Make sure your granddaughter is growing well and not deficient in certain minerals and vitamins based on her limited diet.

If all else fails, it would be advisable to take her to a doctor who can work with a team of specialists to investigate her eating problem.

Dr Chan Poh Chong

Head and senior consultant at the division of ambulatory and adolescent paediatrics at the National University Hospital