Maternal discouragement and child intake of a palatable dessert: A multilevel sequential analysis


Background: Family mealtimes are often marked by parent-child conflict, which may arise when children's eating behaviors do not match parental expectations. Little is known about how children respond to parents’ comments to discourage eating. Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the likelihood of a child taking a bite following a maternal statement to discourage child intake. Methods: 50 mother-child dyads (mean child age 71.8 months) participated in a laboratory eating task with cupcakes. Video recordings were reliably coded for maternal statements to discourage child intake (varying by domains of affective valence and directness) and child bites. Multilevel sequential analysis was performed to determine differences in pairs’ antecedent statement to discourage child intake and a child's discouraged bite. Results: Children were significantly more likely to be non-compliant by taking a bite following negative (vs. positive), indirect (vs. direct) and negative direct (vs. positive direct) statements to discourage child intake (that is, a “discouraged bite”). There were no differences in children taking discouraged bites following a negative indirect vs. positive indirect statement to discourage child intake. Conclusions: Children may be more apt to comply with their mother's mealtime commands if they are delivered with a direct approach and a positive affective valence. Future work should examine the longitudinal effects of using positive direct mealtime commands on children's food intake, weight gain and emotional health.

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