Q: Our 4-year-old daughter's weight (25 pounds) is at the first percentile for her age, but she is otherwise healthy, energetic, creative, polite and well-behaved.
Our only real problem occurs at meals, during which she picks at and dawdles over her food. We end up coaxing her to finish, telling her how important it is for her to eat so she'll grow, and so on. Sometimes, she has been there so long we've taken her plate away, but we are reluctant to do that because we don't want her losing any weight. Are we worrying for nothing?
Percentiles are nothing more than a means of comparing people along a certain dimension or concerning a certain skill.
In the case of your daughter's weight, the first percentile means that 99 out of a typical group of 100 American girls her age weigh more than she does. If, for example, there are a half million 4-year-old girls currently living in America, then 5,000 of them weigh approximately 25 pounds.
No matter what, a certain number of people are always going to be at the first percentile. My point is that weighing 25 pounds at age 4 does not, in and of itself, indicate a problem. My 10-year-old granddaughter's weight has been between the first and fifth percentiles since she was very young. Nonetheless, she's always been the perfect picture of health.
With respect to your daughter's appetite, if she's healthy, she's eating enough. When she's consumed what her body needs, the healthy thing to do is to stop eating. Overeating is not a good thing for humans of any age. Encouraging your daughter to eat when her brain is telling her not to eat is not going to accomplish anything.
The constant coaxing is, however, putting her at the center of attention during meals, turning meals into unpleasant occasions for all concerned, and quite possibly setting the stage for the development of an eating disorder. When the family sits down to eat, you need to talk about anything but your daughter's eating habits.
Before you sit down to eat, you and your husband should decide exactly what you're going to talk about during the meal. Settle on three topics and stick with them. When your daughter begins picking at her food, ask her if she wants to be excused. Tell her it's all right if she wants to get up from the table and go play.
I'm going to assume that you've discussed your daughter's weight with her physician, and since you didn't mention a problem, either he's not concerned or he's taking a "wait and see" attitude. In either case, yes, you're worrying for nothing.