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Is Your Kid Really Hungry? Figuring Emotional Eating in Children

Emotional Eating in Young Children
Not only adults, but young school-going children also fall prey to the habit of emotional eating. How to find if your child is an emotional eater? How to stop your child from doing it?
Mrunal Belvalkar
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Emotional eating is when you eat to feed your emotions and not to feed your stomach. The surest way to find a genuine hunger pang and an instance of emotional hunger is to analyze if the hunger gradually sets in or if it is triggered suddenly. Food makes us feel good, yes. But eating when you are not really hungry, or eating to simply feel good, is not a good thing. People who indulge in emotional eating often crave a high-calorie, fried, sweet and/or salty snack, for e.g. fries, chocolates, ice cream, donuts, etc. The most disturbing thing about emotional eating, however, is that it does not affect only adults but affects young children as well.
Emotional Eating in Children
Child eating an apple
Emotional eating in young children is a thing to be taken seriously and yet tackled with sensitivity. It might be difficult to explain to a young child what emotional eating exactly means. This is why it becomes difficult to get them to stop. Here is an account of the situation; I am sure you will be able to identify and act upon if your child is indulging in emotional eating, after having read through the article.
How Parents Contribute
mother feeding her baby
A child's eating habits can develop right from childhood. The eating cycle and/or timetable sets in from as early as a couple of months, when a baby cries out if it does not get milk at the usual time of the day. However, sometimes parents immediately stick a bottle in the child's mouth without trying to find out if the child is really hungry. Children may cry for a lot of reasons, it need not always be because they are hungry! Even as children grow up and start going to school, parents sometimes stuff a chocolate bar in their hands if they become really whiny. As the child further grows up, he/she may become habituated to having a snack every time he/she is upset or low. Small kids sometimes throw tantrums merely for the sake of throwing one; they want your attention, not food.

Don't stuff your child with snacks or chocolates to pacify an outburst. Instead try other ways. Talk to your child. Ask him/her what is bothering them. Take them out for a walk, a drive. Play a game with them. If they are old enough, ask them if they are really hungry or are they simply feeling bored? Find the cause and address it.
Why Children Indulge in Emotional Eating
This brings us to the next question - what triggers emotional eating? You can find the triggers easily, if you stay alert and observe your child. A common pattern among emotional eaters is that they feel low before they indulge in an emotional snack. After having the snack, they feel a lot better. However, many a time this is short-lived and they soon feel guilty for having indulged in junk food. In young children, however, this guilt is almost always absent. This is primarily because they do not know they are indulging in emotional eating. Just as adult life is with its pressure, factors of childhood enlisted below can make children indulge in emotional eating.
  • Depression
  • Boredom
  • Low grades
  • Peer pressure
  • Being less popular at school
  • Being teased, cornered or bullied.
  • Unhealthy home environment (parents always quarreling, a divorce, physical abuse, etc.)
How to Deal with Emotional Eating in Young Children
father playing with son
The key to stop your child from emotional eating is to tend to your child's emotional needs in the best possible way. This includes spending time with your child on a daily basis, taking an interest in his/her school work, helping your child study, providing a healthy and tension-free atmosphere at home, etc. Being a parent is not easy - it is a thankless job, and yet it is full of responsibilities. There is no concession, and it requires a lot of patience. However, venting your frustrations out on our child is unhealthy for the child. Do not humiliate the child by scolding him/her. It can make the child withdraw into himself/herself. Inculcate self-esteem and confidence in your child. Pamper your child once in a while. Reward him for his achievements. Develop his talents. Enroll him in sports activities, creative ventures, dancing, playing musical instruments, etc.

It is of utmost importance that you fuel proper emotional, intellectual and physical growth of your child. As a parent, you will know your child's strengths and weaknesses the best. Work on them. You may even urge your child's teachers at school to keep you reported on your child's behavior at school and performance in class; these may give important clues about your child's state of mind and will help ensure a fit and healthy environment for your little one!
What Schools Can Do
children painting with watercolors
They say a school is a child's second home. So true! A child spends more time at school among his/her classmates than he/she does at home with you. A teacher at school may be the first one (instead of you) to know about any new likes and dislikes your child develops. Teachers, hence, can help in ways more than one to keep a tab on a child's emotional as well as physical growth. I am sure most teachers at school are already aware of these things and take enough care and interest in the students. However, you may also ask your child's teacher to help you out, especially if you suspect your child is not happy.
One of the primary reasons for the obesity epidemic affecting developed countries all over the world is emotional eating. If this condition in children (as well as in adults) is not nipped in the bud it may develop as a habit. It can even progress to other eating disorders, such as obsessive compulsive overeating. It is absolutely important to identify the habit of emotional eating in your child and do away with it. However, do not forget you are dealing with a child. Be sensitive in your approach. With the right kind of attitude, one can get rid of this disorder forever.