The Underweight Child

Children come in all sizes - some are small, some are big, some are slender or even thin, others are sturdy or even chubby. If your child's weight is relatively low, even if it is below the 5th or 3rd percentile on the growth chart, it is likely to be normal if it follows along a particular percentile curve. But if your child's weight falters - if it drops down across growth percentiles - it is likely to indicate a problem.

What feeding errors can make your child too thin?

  • Too much interference. It is natural to try to get the small child to eat more than he wants. However, such pressure makes children eat less, not more. 
  • Too little structure. It is just as natural to let children eat all the time and be grateful when they do. However, such tactics make children eat less and not more. 
  • Both together. Depending on how desperate you are, you may do both - let your child eat all the time and pressure him to eat at mealtime. That is seriously hard on everyone and really doesn't work.  

Feed in the best way

Instead of trying to get your child to eat more or eat more high-calorie food, feed in the best way. Get started with family meals, if you aren't having them already. Give sit-down snacks between times, but don't let him have free access to food or beverages, except for water. Parent reliably and well and let your child grow up to get the body that is right for him:

  • To provide support without interfering with feeding, maintain a division of responsibility in feeding. You manage the whatwhen and where of feeding and trust your child to do the how much and whether of eating from what you put on the table.
  • Have the same meal for everyone. Include high-fat food, such as butter, salad dressing, and mayonnaise, but don't push high-fat food.
  • Don't let him have food or drinks between times, except for water. Food handouts will make him eat less, not more.
  • Make wise use of “forbidden foods.”

For more about raising children who eat as much as they need and get bodies that are right for them (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming, Kelcy Press, 2005. Also see www.EllynSatterInstitute.org/store to purchase books and to review comprehensive educational materials that teach stage-related feeding and solve feeding problems.

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