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Feeding an Active Child

At the other end of the temperament spectrum is the active, constantly moving, curious-about-everything child. She is far more interested in sights, sounds, and rushing around than in food. A parent whose motive is to see that the child is well fed is bound to feel frustrated, even desperate. "Sit down in your seat," a worried parent will beg as the child climbs out of her high chair to hang teetering on the edge. The child looks up coyly, holding out one hand for a "cookie." Anything she can eat will do as long as at the same time she can clamber around the house, up and over furniture and into drawers to pull out clean clothes with grubby fingers.

Many parents of active children have asked me: "Should I feed her on the run ? She'll never eat enough sitting down. She barely sits before she's gone. I wait until she's hungry, but she never is. I feel like I need to give her bits of food all through the day so that she'll get enough. What should I do?"

My advice has been:

1. Keep mealtimes a sacred time for the family to be together. Don't let the phone or other interruptions interfere.

2. When your child loses interest in sitting at the table—that's it. Put her down and let her know her meal is over. No grazing between meals. No more food until the next meal.

3. Make meals a fun time to be together—at least as much as is possible with a squirming, food-throwing toddler. Make meals as companionable as possible—you eat when she does. But if she doesn't, eat your own meal and let her know that you can chat and be together if she stays at the table. If she squirms to leave, put her down. But she'll have to wait for your attention until you're done. Eventually she'll learn to model on you.

4. No television at the table or promises of special sweet desserts to get her to sit and eat.

5. Be sure you let her feed herself. Never say, "Just one more bite." If you do, you'll be setting yourself up for testing.

6. Don't go to special trouble to cook her a special or exciting meal—your disappointment is likely to outweigh the benefits. Instead, let your child know that "this is what we're having for dinner tonight." If she doesn't want it, she'll have to see if she likes the next meal any better.

7. Let her help with meals as soon as she is old enough to do even the smallest task, such as setting the table (start with the napkins only!), cleaning it with a sponge, and so on.

8. Have your child's pediatrician check her weight and growth, and ask her for supplements if necessary.

9. Above all, don't set meals up as a struggle or her high chair as a prison to keep her in.

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