Life can be very distressing for parents of an underweight child. The frustration of having a child whose weight just does not increase in spite and despite special care, nutrition and medication, can run very deep indeed.
A child is considered underweight when the recommended weight and/or corresponding height is less than what it should be at that particular age. The criteria takes into account factors like weight of baby at birth and hereditary factors.
Once a child is declared underweight, it is necessary to ascertain the cause. A child may be underweight for various reasons:
He may have been born underweight, and for various reasons has not yet gained adequate weight.
His low weight may be due to genetic or hereditary factors. If any parent or grandparent is of slight build or was underweight in his or her childhood, the child may also be underweight.
Improper nutrition, malnutrition or an unbalanced diet may also lead to a child being underweight.
The child could be suffering from some psychological or physiological problem.
And finally, it maybe a combination of one or more of these above factors.
There are several factors whose importance cannot be undermined in the raising of an underweight child.
A discipline should be maintained for a child's everyday activities. A structured routine for sleep and wake-up times, mealtimes and play, goes a long way to making a child healthy and cheerful. Meals should be served at approximately the same time every day. A parent should concentrate more on making the mealtime routine for the entire family consistent. Sooner or later the child will fall into the ritual of eating what the family is eating.
Adequate sleep, and age-appropriate bedtimes should be adhered to. Also, one should take care that the child has an undisturbed sleep at night.
Proper eating habits are very important, no matter what the reason for a child being underweight. The child should be given less of junk food and in-between snacks, and more of whole meals and fruits or salad based snacks. A proper respect for food and a natural inclination for healthy eating should be instilled in the child. A child's eating habits and discipline has to be implanted early, and this can be achieved with a little imagination, perseverance and interaction. The importance of correct nutrition cannot be ruled out, and very often a well balanced diet high on proteins, carbohydrates and calories can sort out the problem with ease. Interchanging milk i.e. cow / dairy / powdered often achieves positive results, especially for a toddler.
A child should never be force-fed. Parents should try and serve the child what he likes to eat.
Sleep habits play an important role in the health of a growing child. Adequate sleep and a regular routine are very necessary. The child's doctor should be consulted about his sleep requirement, and the same should be adhered to. A hyperactive child, who is awake from dawn and refuses to sleep before midnight, has to be induced to a proper sleep routine. A child who is tired from play and has had a hearty meal will be only too happy to hit the bed on time.
As per health department surveys in India, lack of hygiene is one of the prime factors a large percentage of children are malnourished or underweight. A child has to be taught basic hygiene, and also be educated about the need for hygiene. How many children come in from play and wash their hands before grabbing a glass of water or a snack from the refrigerator? A child picking up his chocolate from the floor and eating it is a common sight. Such a child is obviously more exposed to disease-carrying germs and bacteria. Often, a child's undergrowth can be attributed to intestinal worms, which remain undiagnosed and untreated in most cases.
Play is very vital for a child's growth and development. It stimulates appetite, exercises and stretches his body parts.
Parents should encourage outdoor activities like swimming and cycling, and active, rigorous play like football. This will enhance his appetite and growth. An emphasis on gymnastics will also do wonders.
Motivate the child so he is self-driven to eat, sleep and play. For example, a favourite football hero could be used as an inspiration to egg him on.
Differentiate between motivation and comparison. The former is a positive way of encouraging a child to emulate something good, and the latter is a negative line of attack. Motivation inspires confidence in a child and induces him to strive, but comparison more than often demoralises a child and makes him stubborn.
The golden rule for taking care of an underweight child is to never make him realise that he is underweight. This may reduce his self-esteem, and cause him to harbour a complex.
A congenial, healthy environment at home should be maintained. Where a child sees a general display of hygiene and a love for fruits and greens in his family, he will gradually fall into the family food pattern.
Any family problems or adverse situations should be shielded from the child, as it may lead to emotional or psychological problems.
An environment where routine and discipline is maintained will foster a child with healthy habits, as well as improve his growth and development. Early to bed and early to rise makes a child healthy, cheerful and wise.