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Sibling Impact in Eating

When a family has a child that is a resistive eater, picky eater, or problem eater, mealtimes tend to be a stressful and chaotic time for everyone that is involved. The goal is to make the mealtime environment and experience positive and fun! Siblings can be utilized to demonstrate how to eat, how to behave at the table, and can teach their brother or sister how to be like them. Patrozelle and Moll (2020) stated that 70% of children who ate with their siblings increased their vegetable intake. In addition, older siblings tend to have a responsibility in role modeling and imitating feeding practices for their young siblings in all aspects of their life, and this includes eating (Ayre et al., 2023). Siblings can dilute the worry for their siblings that are hesitant to try new foods.


Potential Sibling Roles:

  • Eating food like they normally do

  • Demonstrating try-it strategies for child’s non-preferred food (e.g., bite and spit, lick it, kiss it, smell it, touch it)

  • Demonstrate positive mealtime behaviors (e.g., sitting at the table until everyone is done, using a napkin to clean face)

  • Following dinner table rules that are set by the family

  • Demonstrating messy play (e.g., touching spaghetti with hands, placing toys in yogurt, playing with fruit in water)


No Sibling? No problem!

  • Present videos of other children or animals eating the food

  • Set routines and structure as parents

  • Demonstrate try-it strategies as parents

  • Pretend play with foods

  • Involve child in food preparation or grocery shopping

  • Read books about food


An important tip for parents who encourage their siblings to be role models:

  • Celebrate the sibling’s accomplishments

  • Create time for the sibling without the picky, problem, or resistive eater

  • Allow the sibling still to explore their interest and values as a person

  • Have meals with the sibling only

*This ensures the sibling feels as important as the picky, problem, or resistive eater.


References

Ayre, S. K., White, M. J., Harris, H. A., & Byrne, R. A. (2023). “I’m having jelly because you’ve

been bad!”: A grounded theory study of mealtimes with siblings in Australian families.

Maternal & Child Nutrition, 19(2), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/mcn.13484

Klein, M. D. (2019, November 8). Anxious eaters, anxious mealtimes: Practical and

compassionate strategies for mealtime peace. Archway Publishing.

Petrozelle, D., & Moll C. M. (2020). Sibling-supported feeding intervention: Sibling

participation leads to growth in food repertoire and generalization of positive habits to

home. OT Practice, 25(2), 10–13.

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