It’s quite normal for babies to gag as they learn to properly chew and swallow solid food. It can be a hard behaviour to ignore, because most parents instinctively feel on alert when their child gags. I remember dropping everything whenever my first baby gagged or coughed while eating, and getting ready to grab him out of his chair to administer first aid! Yet, he always managed.
It’s important to keep monitoring your child if they are gagging, however the key is to remain calm; being up-to-date with your first aid skills can help with this.
Kids can sometimes gag because they dislike a certain food and they don’t want to swallow it. They may gag even just from smelling or looking at a food. They may also gag on purpose if they know that it will get them what they want – maybe their parent’s attention or the food being removed. Gagging can be a fussy eating behaviour.
Did you know? Unlike adults, children cannot predict what a food will taste like just by smelling it or looking at it.
If your child gags because they dislike a certain food, ignore it and stay calm (again, providing it’s safe and your child isn’t struggling to manage the food or choking).
10 tips on managing gagging when it’s linked to fussy eating
What should you do when you child gags because they don’t want or like a certain food?
- Ignore the gagging – if you respond by showing frustration or worry, removing the food or cajoling your child, you may be reinforcing the behaviour
- Reassure your child that it’s okay if they don’t want to eat it
- Involve your child with preparing and cooking the food (this will build familiarity)
- Don’t offer an alternative or stop offering the food
- Present this food often and in different ways (read more about exposure)
- Encourage your child to have a small taste
- Introduce the food as part of dishes that your child already loves
- Allow your child to spit out a food if they don’t want to swallow it
- Have relaxed and engaging mealtimes (this can help relieve anxiety)
- Focus on your child’s positive behaviours at the table – praise them for keeping the food on their plate or for having a small taste (even if they spit it out!)
Kids can gradually familiarise themselves with new foods by seeing them, smelling them, touching them and tasting them. This exposure is just as important as your loving support during mealtime. By praising your child for taking little steps, you can help them feel more confident about trying new foods. As they taste a wide variety of foods, they will feel less intimidated by new foods. And remember, a little try is always good enough!