Parental perceptions of feeding young children with developmental and eating problems

Date of Completion

January 2000


Health Sciences, Rehabilitation and Therapy|Health Sciences, Nursing|Health Sciences, Human Development




Feeding interventions with young children who have developmental and eating problems frequently emphasize the mechanics of feeding, giving less attention to parent's feeding experiences. Based on family systems and social exchange theories, this study investigated parents' experiences of feeding their child with developmental and eating problems. Parents' perceptions of feeding difficulties, feeding rewards, overall feeding satisfaction, parenting stress, and the impact of feeding intervention were assessed. The study focused on the relevance of family systems and exchange theories to the study of parents' feeding perceptions, and the implications of parents' feeding perceptions for family-centered feeding assessment and intervention. ^ Thirty-one parents of toddlers and preschoolers with developmental and eating problems were interviewed and filled out self-report questionnaires related to feeding. All of the families were current or former participants in Birth-to-Three programs, most from Connecticut. Parents described their perceptions of feeding in response to open-ended and scale scored questions. Parenting Stress was assessed using the Parenting Stress Index/Short Form, and demographic and medical information was collected. ^ The primary feeding difficulties reported by parents, such as their child's resistance to eating, are described. Parents' rewarding feeding experiences, such as when their child progressed in his or her eating ability, also are described. Parents' overall satisfaction with feeding reflected considerable individual differences in parent responses, but approximately half of the parents ranked feeding as their least favorite child care task. ^ Parents had very high parenting stress levels, half with scores indicating clinically significant levels of stress. A significant negative correlation was found between parenting stress and ratings of overall feeding satisfaction. Parents reported feeding intervention had either a positive (42%), both positive and negative (23%), negative (11%), or no impact (11%). ^ This study supported the use of the family systems and exchange theories for understanding parents' feeding perceptions. Application of the results to family-centered feeding intervention and future research are discussed. Implications include the importance of assisting parents through specific feeding strategies and social support, promoting parents' rewarding feeding experiences, and considering parents' individual perceptions and needs in determining the best ways to include them in feeding intervention efforts. ^