When I was a toddler, my favourite place to sit and eat was by the window. My grandmother would tell me stories, point out to the trees and birds and feed me. It’s one of my favourite memories with her and something that I remember from then.
Like all toddlers with a limited focussing capacity (4-20 mins), distraction to finish the meal to the last bite was a necessity. Children may need distraction from food that they don’t want to eat, or when a child is unwell and requires extra “help” to carry on with the daily routine of eating or even that a child doesn’t focus for more than 5 or 10 minutes yet and needs to kept busy till the meal ends. It is established therefore, that parents/grandparents/caretakers need to be armed with distractions.
Today, many parents use the digital kind of distraction with the help of phones, tablets and laptops. It’s a digital age after all. This distraction is easily available.
It is very important for Dentist Auntie to speak about distracted and slow eating because everything that goes in the mouth, affects it and the teeth. How much distraction is acceptable while eating?
Let’s put Grandma’s stories (audio distraction) vs. Digital distraction (audiovisual distraction) and let’s see who wins!
The digital distraction completely arrests the child’s attention. Two senses (eyes and ears) are completely overwhelmed. To get the child’s attention to open their mouth, sometimes, you have to call out their name loudly or tell them to open “Aah” loudly. Some children may get irritable at this when their hunger is not urgent.
Grandma’s stories engage the child with the person who is feeding them. If you are a creative parent and make the food in interesting shapes and interesting colour, it’s just an added bonus. This is in-fact increasing the concentration of the child in the task at hand.
You and your spouse may watch a movie together or go for a meal together- both are bonding, but you will always consider a meal to be about more quality time, because you got to talk and exchange your thoughts.
Drawing parallels, the child will always engage more with the person/thing that is telling them the story/entertaining them. It could be you, or, it could be a screen. We have a choice to make constantly. This round will have to go to grandma’s stories too because we definitely want our child to be more used to social interactions in this digital world.
Both, grandma’s stories and digital entertainment may be addictive. Child may demand a story from you or the tablet/phone. Enjoyment is always addictive. So this round is a tie!
4. Slow eating
Distracted eating is one of the causes of slow eating. And slow eating leads to cavities in teeth. Digital entertainment grabs the child’s attention more effectively, so it causes slow and distracted eating more often. And we want to avoid that.
5. Sitting through a meal
Because digital entertainment grabs the child’s attention more fully, there’s much more chance of your child being continually seated throughout the meal with this distraction and you not having to run after him/her to feed a bite of food. Those days where you need your quiet time, you’re low on energy and you just want be done with your chores, this is a great weapon to wield. Digital entertainment seems to be catching up!
6. Long term effects
A child may grow out of the phase of wanting to hear Grandma’s stories but it lays the foundation of communicating while eating. So no long term side effects.
If you choose digital entertainment for your child routinely and excessively, though, it has been associated with long term side effects like:
a) Obesity due to over eating and snacking (Obesity has very strong links to getting cavities)
b) Sleep problems
c) Emotional, social and attention problems
d) Aggression in children
Dentist Auntie recommends that all parents should not mix mealtimes with screentime (barring special circumstances). As the new generation grows, screen time will become synonymous with study time and free time, therefore, mealtimes can do without it. Prevent future problems by setting the right tone at the beginning.
All over the world, eating together is a family bonding exercise. This article of feeding children with audio distraction is not just targeted to mom and grand parents. It is targeted towards our new age dads who look for ways to bond with their child. Nothing better for bonding than an everyday chore. Or is it a chore?
Last but not the least, we are not all story tellers like my grand mom, but we can definitely learn up a few stories to regale our children. Let us know in the comments, the stories that your children especially like and recommend story books that other parents may read.
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