Tummy voice

Can I really trust my toddler’s appetite? Sometimes my toddler won’t eat anything! I’m worried my toddler isn’t growing, can I still let my toddler decide how much they need to eat? 

One of the best things we can do for our kids is to let them listen to their bodies and trust their appetite. This helps them to achieve a healthy weight across their childhood, but it can be hard for us not to override it.

To learn more watch the video or read the summary below.

Summary Trusting your toddler's tummy voice

The only person who knows how much they need to be full is your toddler.

This can feel particularly tricky if you’ve been told they’re not drinking or eating enough, their growth isn’t tracking or they are too big or too small for their age. Sometimes it might seem that health professionals can be a bit narrow with their focus, when they see you for a few minutes every few months. You know the big picture of your child’s eating, growth and health, so if you get advice that feels ‘off’, it’s ok to look for a second opinion.

When your toddler hits the typical phases of fussiness that come with toddler eating it often fires up our anxiety and worries about their wellbeing.

One of the fundamental parts of setting up our children to have a healthy relationship with food and their body is trusting their body. Your child’s body is designed to grow as they’re meant to. Comparing them to smoothed-out population trends doesn’t always translate to an individual child (learn more here).

If you need a reminder or your jobs and your toddler’s jobs, read more about my philosophy and approach for feeding children.

So what is a tummy voice?

  • A tummy voice is the voice of your toddler’s tummy.
  • In adults we might think of this as our hunger and satiety cues, but it’s a bit bigger than that.
  • It might be rumbling and grumbling and saying I need more food.
  • Or it could be saying I’ve had one bite and I don’t want any more.
  • It’s also the voice that says I’d like to eat some more of the bread and avocado, but I don’t feel like eating any more of the chicken.

What can affect your toddler’s tummy voice?

  • Tiredness: dinner is often a hard time because toddler’s are tired from the day
  • Feeling unwell: a sore tummy, sore throat or a blocked nose
  • Feeling overwhelmed: struggling to focus on anything else after a big day or new learning

How to respect your toddler’s tummy voice:

Look for a pause in the meal where we can ask our toddler if they (or their tummy) are hungry for more food, or if they’ve had enough. 

For younger children you could say things like “all done?” or “finished?” but using the concept of a tummy voice can help when your child’s language skills develop a bit more. 

Sometimes a toddler’s tummy voice might say they’re full when we really don’t think they’ve had enough. This is really important to listen to though because showing respect here means that they know we won’t push it. Your toddler will have another opportunity to fill up their tummy at the next scheduled meal or snack. 

Sometimes a toddler’s tummy voice might say they’re still hungry when you feel like they’ve eaten a lot of food. It’s still really important to respect the tummy voice though, and offer more of the food you chose for that meal or snack. Try really hard not to comment on their eating or override their tummy voice. 

Sometimes your toddler might get it wrong. They might not quite be in sync with their tummy and feel overly full after a meal, or be hungry again quite soon. This is part of the learning process for them, and it works best if you let it happen without commenting on it. We want them to become intrinsically motivated to eat, that is to be so in tune with their tummy voice that  they don’t need to think very much about it. They don’t need a talk from you to work this out, they just need practice. So stick to your roles and let them have another go at listening to their tummy at the next opportunity to eat.

Listening and respecting your toddler’s tummy voice is particularly hard for parents who have gone through issues with smaller or bigger babies.

  • If you’ve struggled with IUGR, faltering growth, failure to thrive or constant weight checks when your baby was little, your whole experience of feeding has been to get your baby to eat or drink more, so it feels really hard to respect your toddler who might be done after a few bites
  • If people always comment on your toddler being big for their age, then you might worry about their size or overfeeding them
  • In both of these cases, the good news is that if you stick to your four jobs, and let your toddler be in charge of if they want to eat and how much (their tummy voice) then you’re doing everything you can to help them grow as they need to

Listening to your own body is a life-long skill that many adults have lost, so at tricky times just remind yourself of what a gift this is to give your little one.

Ready for more? Related Topics

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Module 1: Toddler Eating

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Module 2: Philosophy

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How much should my toddler eat?

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Guest Speaker: Sickness

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Listening to your own body is a life-long skill that many adults have lost, so at tricky times just remind yourself of what a gift this is to give your little one.