Children under 11 can present a wide range of other food difficulties in addition to the classic eating disorders. These include:
- Food refusal
- Restrictive eating
- Selective eating
- Food phobia
- Food avoidance emotional disorder
These difficulties are not all well understood and are commonly misdiagnosed. It’s important also to remember that many children will experience difficulties that don’t fit neatly into one category or another, but these classifications will help you to gain some understanding of the range of behaviours you could encounter.
- Food refusal is commonly found in pre-school children, where the refusal of food can be used as a way to get other things.
- However, this can persist in slightly older children, where the main feature is an inconsistent refusal of food.
- These children will tend to eat their favourite foods without any problem at all.
- They may refuse food only when they are with particular people or in a particular situation – for example, refusing to eat at school but eating normally at home.
- Worry or unhappiness underlies the food refusal in many cases.
- These children are usually of normal weight and height, and this problem does not usually pose a threat to the child’s health.
- These children eat smaller amounts of food than they should do for their age.
- Their diet will be normal in terms of the range of food eaten and the nutrients that it contains.
- These children are often thin and their height tends to be low, but otherwise they generally seem healthy.
- It almost seems as if restrictive eaters are ‘programmed’ to eat less and to be thin but healthy.
- Often, other members of the family will have a history of the same pattern of food intake.
- The most obvious feature of this condition is the narrow range of food that is eaten. This can persist for months or even years.
- These children are very unwilling to try new types of food.
- The behaviour of these children is usually normal, unless they feel that they are being forced to eat a wider range of foods than they feel comfortable with.
- Problems may start to occur when the child is about eight years old because the selective eating causes difficulties over going to birthday parties or staying at a friend’s house.
- Children who eat only a restricted sugary diet may also have problems with their teeth.
- The weight of these children does not give much of an indication as to whether there is a problem – they may be of low, normal or high weight.
- These children are usually very resistant to eating and drinking, which can cause a great deal of concern.
- They may avoid foods that have certain textures because they are frightened of swallowing.
- They are usually frightened of choking, gagging or being sick, and some children say that eating and drinking hurts. This means that meals often turn into a battleground.
- Some children may be fearful and anxious of eating new or disliked foods.
- The majority of these children do, however, seem to grow and develop because the food and drink that they will have provide enough calories and nutrients.
Food Avoidance Emotional Disorder
- These children often wish that they could eat more and are concerned about being thin.
- The loss of appetite is usually associated with depression or anxiety.
- In food avoidance emotional disorder there is a more general disturbance in behaviour that does not centre on food and mealtimes.
- The child may experience a loss of appetite, problems with sleeping, poor concentration, tearfulness and a general sense of hopelessness.
- These children may actually say that they feel sad, and this sadness can be seen in their posture, the way they move, their facial expression and their tone of voice.
- They also may avoid school and contact with their friends, and want to stay at home.
In addition to this, some under 11s will also suffer with one of the three major eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. These are all very serious conditions which are worth understanding despite their relatively low prevalence with this age group as early intervention is key with these children to ensure they make a full and lasting recovery.
If you’d like further support, I can provide bespoke face to face training to help you sport and support eating difficulties in younger children. I can also provide one to one consultancy via telephone or skype. Email email@example.com or call 07590446791 for further information.