Considering Communication and Behaviour

It is important to help parents develop an understanding of what their child may be communicating, verbally and non-verbally, through their behaviour before, during, and after a meal (Evans Morris & Dunn Klein, 2000). Children who refuse to eat, engage in mealtime tantrums or show undesired responses at mealtimes may be attempting to communicate that something doesn’t feel right (Evans Morris & Dunn Klein, 2000). 

There are many potential factors that impact a parent’s ability to observe and respond to their child’s cues during mealtimes. It is important that parents are regulated so that they are available to co-regulate with their child. Consider factors which affect a parent’s ability to be responsive:

  • parent stress, anxiety, or depression
  • economic stressors (e.g. food insecurity, housing)
  • trauma history and emotional reactivity

When parents feel pressured by social or cultural expectations, they may resort to force feeding, and/or unhealthy eating practices and food choices to meet unvoiced or voiced expectations (Evans Morris & Dunn Klein, 2000).

It is important for a parent to be aware of how they are communicating and responding to their child, and what this is communicating about food and mealtimes. In an attempt to encourage eating, parents often become trapped in cycles of behaviour that inadvertently reinforce undesired eating behaviours. The communication environment includes the nonverbal communication of adult attitudes and expectations, and communication of their emotional experience (Evans Morris & Dunn Klein, 2000).

Responsiveness and Development

Early experiences affect the development of the brain, which impacts future learning, behaviour, and health. Adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood.

Supporting parents and caregivers to understand the importance of being attentive, sensitive, and responsive to their child’s communication and needs will result in an environment rich in serve and return experiences. Unreliable, inconsistent, inappropriate or harsh responses from the parent or caregiver can negatively impact learning and behaviour which may contribute to difficult mealtime interactions. This negatively affects the parent-child relationship, which can result in long-term toxic stress. 

Refer to:
Brain Architecture
Serve and Return