It is not uncommon for a child to lose his or her appetite, so parents should not be overly alarmed if a child occasionally does not feel like eating a meal. Heat can cause appetite loss, as can a dislike for certain types of foods. In most cases, children make up for a temporary appetite loss by eating more during the next meal, especially if they are not allowed to eat a lot of unhealthy snacks in between meals. As a result, is it important for parents to recognize the reasons behind loss of appetite in children.
Loss of Appetite: When to Worry
Children may also lose their appetite if they are feeling unwell. This is usually accompanied by fatigue, grumpiness and/or physical indicators of sickness such as fever, cough, runny nose or rash. While sick children should not be forced to eat as much as they usually would, they should still be encouraged to eat at least some food throughout the day. Thankfully, children almost always recoup their appetite when they get better.
However, there are times when loss of appetite is an indicator of a more serious problem. If the loss of appetite is sudden, out of character and/or prolonged, parents should not ignore it. Instead, it is important to find the root cause of the problem and deal with it so that your children can not only get the nutrition they need but also overcome the serious issues that caused the lack of appetite in the first place.
The following are some of the main causes of sudden loss of appetite, along with tips and advice on how to deal with each one.
Stress causes loss of appetite in both children and adults. If you as a parent notice that your child not only lacks a desire to eat but is also sad and worried and has a hard time sleeping at night, then chances are he or she is stressed out.
There are many reasons why a child may be stressed; in fact, there may be more than one reason behind your child’s problem and it is important to find out what these are. Some common reasons for childhood stress include:
- Family issues (pending or recent divorce, death in the family, death of a beloved pet, birth of a new brother/sister, etc.)
- Bullying (be aware that this not only takes place at school; online bullying – or cyber bullying – is quickly becoming a common yet devastating problem)
- Unrealistic expectations related to academic and/or physical performance
Solving Stress-Related Loss of Appetite
As was noted above, the first step in solving stress-related loss of appetite is to identify the root cause. Encourage your child to talk to you about what is making him or her feel stressed. Let your child know that stress is a common problem that even adults face and that he or she will not be in trouble for being fully honest with you.
The next step is to deal with the issue that is causing stress. If the stress is related to a divorce, reassure your child that you love him or her and that while parents may separate from each other, they never stop loving their children. Avoid speaking negatively of the other spouse within earshot of the child and never force him or her to “pick sides.”
If stress is caused by a death in the family (or the death of a pet), help your child overcome his or her grief. If you feel your efforts are not enough, get in touch with a counselor who has experience in this field.
Dealing with stress related to bullying can be a little more complicated, because it involves dealing with a situation over which you may not have full control. Even so, as a parent, your child is more likely to listen to you than anyone else and you can influence your child in a way that no one else can. Start by helping your child regain his or her sense of self-esteem. Regardless of how tall, short, fat, thin, gifted or non-gifted your child may be, he or she is special in some way and this cannot be changed by the fact that others are making fun of him or her. Remind your child of his or her strong points and most of all reassure him or her that your love is not dependent on external factors such as appearance, popularity and/or academic or sports-related achievements.
If the bullying is taking place at school, you as the parent need to report it to the school administration. Most schools have an anti-bullying policy in place and will take certain measures to ensure that your child is not physically or verbally harassed by a bully or group of bullies. If the school is unable or unwilling to stop the bullying, you may need to either transfer your child to a different school or consider homeschooling or enrollment in an online school.
If your child is being bullied via social media you will need to either find a way to block a bully’s access to a child’s account or have the child delete the social media account altogether. If the bullying is taking place via mobile phone, then either block the number or have it changed. Then teach your child to be very careful with his or her number. It should only be given to close, trusted friends who understand clearly that they may not give it to anyone else with your child’s permission. If your child has been bullied via social media, teach him or her to only befriend or add those they actually know and never chat with someone online whom they have not met in person.
Depression can easily be mistaken for sadness. However, it is not the same thing and it is important to understand the difference between sadness and depression so that your child can get the help he or she needs to resolve their loss of appetite.
The feeling of sadness will usually subside on its own. As the old saying goes, “time can heal all wounds.” A child who is upset over a move, the death of a pet or a friend, a bad test score or what have you will usually overcome these feelings of sadness after some time, especially if a parent is giving a child extra love, attention and professional help in the form of access to a counselor.
Depression, on the other hand, lasts a lot longer than sadness. It not only makes a child feel sad but interferes with his or her ability to lead a normal life. If your child does not have the desire to engage in activities that he or she previously found enjoyable and/or does not want to spend with friends, something is wrong and chances are it may be depression. A change in sleep habits is yet another indicator of this serious problem.
Solving Depression-Related Loss of Appetite
The first step in helping a child or teenager with depression is to seek out professional medical care. While there is no test that can conclusively prove that a person has depression, a doctor can assess the symptoms and determine if a person is indeed depressed or is battling with other health problems. Common problems that can be mistaken for depression include bipolar disorder, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Once it has been determined that a child or teen indeed has clinical depression, your doctor will conduct a thorough exam to determine what type of depression your child has. This diagnosis will have a large bearing on the recommended treatment course. In most cases, a child or teenager with depression will need professional counseling over an extended period of time in order to fully overcome this mental health problem. A change of routine may also be in order in some cases.
A doctor may also recommend that a child or teenager take antidepressants. However, parents should be very leery of this course of action, as it is a known fact that antidepressant use by those under the age of 25 can cause suicidal thoughts. Instead of automatically turning to medication, parents should look for other solutions that can help to alleviate depression and help a child or young person get his or her life back.
Read this article if your child is suffering from a depressive disorder contributing to his or her loss of appetite.
Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder that can result in death. Loss of appetite can be a symptom that your child is battling this condition. Other symptoms include:
- Lowered immunity to sickness
- An obsession with exercise
- Obsessively weighing oneself
As was noted above, children may refuse to eat their food for any one of a variety of reasons. However, a healthy child will generally get hungry at some point of time and either eat more the next meal or find something to snack on in between meals.
Children who are battling Anorexia will go for as long as possible without eating; when they do eat, they will choose a food that is low in fat (or fat free) and will usually feel guilty about having eaten afterwards.
Dealing with Anorexia
Parents who are unsure of how to confront their child about a possible eating problem and loss of appetite should take the child to see a psychologist as well as a nutritionist. A combination of psychological and dietary treatments will help your child through this difficult time so that he or she can regain a healthy appetite. It is also imperative for a child to be taken to a pediatrician or a doctor, as Anorexia can cause serious health problems that require medical care and/or intervention to reverse.
At the same time, there is much that parents can do at home to help a child overcome Anorexia. Below are some pointers that can help children get over this difficult problem.
Parents should examine their own attitude about weight. A mother who is continually taking about how fat she is and how she needs to lose weight is automatically teaching her daughter the wrong things about her body. Continual talk of this nature encourages children to become obsessed about their weight and want to take measures to reduce it. It is even more important for parents (and siblings) to avoid dieting if a member of the family is dealing with Anorexia.
Parents will also need to help an anorexic child boost his or her self-esteem. One of the reasons why children and teenagers suffer from loss of appetite and become anorexic is because they feel that they are worthless unless they can become as thin as they think they need to be. Helping children understand that they are valuable and loved regardless of how much they weigh will enable them to regain a healthy appetite. Additionally, it is a good idea to help an anorexic child find an activity that he or she not only enjoys but is also good at. Such activities go a long way in boosting a child’s self-esteem and overcoming the obsession with weight.
Parents will also need to closely supervise an anorexic child until he or she fully recovers. Parents need to make sure their child does eat at least some food, even if he or she does not feel like it. What is more, parents should also be on the lookout for signs that a child is purging (throwing up) food in an effort to avoid gaining weight. This problem is commonly known as Bulimia Nervosa and can be just as serious as Anorexia Nervosa.
It is also a good idea to take a close look at what a child is reading and watching at this time as the media can be quite influential. Magazines featuring thin models with seemingly perfect bodies should be banned from home. TV shows, movies and other broadcasts that promote the idea that “thin is beautiful” should also be avoided.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is commonly known, can make it very difficult for a child to concentrate on his or her school. For this reason, many doctors will prescribe special medications for children who have this condition, thus making it easier for them to sit still and concentrate than it would have been otherwise. While the use of these strong medications for children is the subject of much debate, one thing that can be said with certainty is that children who take these medications commonly experience a loss of appetite. The reason for this is that most children’s ADHD medications are psychostimulants.
Dealing with the Problem
If your child takes ADHD medications and has a loss of appetite as a result, there are a couple of things that you can do as a parent. Begin with speaking to your medical care provider and asking him or her if it is possible to lower the dose of medication. Using strong medications for your child should be seen as a last resort, something that is done when all else fails.
If it is not possible for your child to stop taking ADHD medicine and lowering the dosage is not an option, then make a variety of healthy snacks available to your child or teen. This way, your child will get the nutrition he or she needs in order to remain physically healthy and strong.
Remember that it is common for loss of appetite to affect a child so do not become alarmed every single time it happens. If your child is happy and healthy, has a reasonable amount of energy and is able to sleep well at night, you have nothing to worry about. The appetite loss in such instances is likely to be temporary, especially if you have established a healthy eating routine as a family and do not allow your child to eat snacks too close to mealtime.
However, not all forms of appetite loss are temporary or innocent in nature. Appetite loss can be a sign that a child has a problem with stress, bullying, depression and/or an eating disorder. If your child has other alarming symptoms besides appetite loss, it is important for you as a parent to determine the root cause of the problem is and see how it can be resolved.
In some cases, appetite loss problems related to serious issues can be resolved fairly quickly. In other instances it may take longer to help a child overcome a serious mental or physical health issue. However, the quicker the problem is diagnosed, the faster it can be overcome. Parents should consider it part of their job to look out for their child’s or teen’s welfare by keeping an eye on what he or she is eating to ensure that the child (or teen) is getting the nutrition needed to develop in a healthy manner.
Check out this article to learn more about binge eating.