This month I will be publishing a series of posts summarising the EAF rules. If you don't have time to read my book about picky eating, or you prefer your parenting advice in small bites, this series is for you. Although it is based in psychological theory and research, EAF is a straightforward and practical philosophy that can be reduced to a few simple rules and principles. Here is the first :
'Never praise or criticise how or what your child is eating'
Mealtime criticism comes in many forms. It's very easy to compare your child's eating to that of siblings "why can't you be a good eater like Isobel?" This makes your child feel labelled and will actually make picky eating worse. It's amazing how children will live up to your expectations, both positive or negative.
Sometimes parents criticise manners - it's fine to work on the finer points of eating behaviour like finishing a mouthful before talking or improving cutlery skills when your child is eating well and enjoying meals. Until that point, concentrate on making meals as relaxed as possible. This is not achievable if you spend a lot of time telling your child what they are doing wrong.
If you give your child attention that is related to how or what they are eating (whether through criticism or praise) you are conveying a message that eating is a behaviour you want your child to 'perform' for you. This immediately gives them an opening to use it as an emotional lever. You can read more about why this is unhelpful here. Of course, if you are worried about your child's fussiness, your natural instinct will be to praise her when she eats well. Don't! It sounds counter-intuitive but ignoring both good and bad eating is one of the keys to solving it.
If you praise or criticise your child for what goes into her mouth, you are bringing the focus sharply onto her eating. This piles the pressure on. Let her make her own decisions about how much she eats (within the context of appropriate meals and snacks offered by you) . Instead of concentrating on what's being consumed, concentrate on the social side of eating - research tells us that the happier and calmer meals can be, the better your child will eat.