You've read up on how to help your picky eater improve their relationship with food. You understand how self-regulation works and you know that pressuring your child to eat won't help them. Maybe you've accessed some professional support and you've begun to make some changes at home.
Great - it's all systems go. But have you considered how you will react when other adults who eat with your child aren't on message? This is one of the most common challenges parents have to contend with. You know how you want to handle your child's eating, but what can you do when your approach is totally sabotaged by well meaning friends and family?
One parent - let's call her Gina - had been working really hard with her little boy at home. She'd had his weight and growth checked by a health professional and realised that her anxiety about the amount he was eating was unfounded. This helped her address the level of control she tried to exert over his eating. She was much less anxious and was beginning to let her son make his own eating decisions. Consequently, mealtimes were becoming less and less stressful.
Part of Gina's previous urge to encourage her little boy to eat 'just one more mouthful' came of her own upbringing. Her parents believed that children should clean their plates and Gina had always automatically assumed that part of being a 'good mother' was to get as much healthy food down her son as possible. This anxiety and pressure led to more and more mealtime tension, until Gina had decided to attend a feeding workshop locally that had given her some important insights into what had been going on.
After a couple of weeks, Gina invited her parents over for a Sunday dinner. She was excited about enjoying a meal with them now that her son was more relaxed at the table. As soon as the dishes of vegetables came out, Gina's dad started pushing his grandson to take some carrots. Tears welled in the little boys eyes "I don't have to eat them if I don't want to!" he pleaded. His grandad started talking about how he had to eat his veg to become big and strong... how carrots help you see in the dark. He pointed to his granddaughter piling the carrots onto her plate and said "why can't you be like your sister? She's so great at eating her vegetables". The little boy was sobbing now. Gina was utterly deflated; it felt like all her effort was being undone before her eyes.
Keeping friends and family on the same page...
Gina had a choice. She could deal with it at the time, deal with it later, or let it go. She decided to let it go this time, but thought hard about how to avoid the same thing happening again.
In order to avoid difficult confrontations at the table, chat to friends and family (who eat regularly with your child) before you eat.. You can get into the rationale behind your feeding approach if you want. But you don't owe anyone an explanation. It can be enough to say:
"We're trying a new approach to mealtimes with Sam - please don't try to encourage him to eat anything"
"I know you want to help Sam eat well, but please respect our approach - we'd prefer it if you didn't get comment on his eating"
If they don't remember (or decide to go ahead and intervene anyway) you may need to fight your child's corner, saying
"actually, Sam doesn't have to try the potato if he doesn't want to"
and if anyone weighs in with a bribe of pudding, you can explain that in your house, dessert is not in fact conditional on what children eat for their main course.
It is your right as a parent to take charge of how issues concerning your child are managed. If people want a philosophical debate about your decisions, you can get into it with them later, away from the child and only if you want to. You are not obliged to defend your parenting decisions.
Many parents of picky eaters feel blamed and judged for their child's eating. Unsolicited advice, or other adults intervening and trying to persuade your child to eat in a certain way, is part of that. It takes a steely resolve and the hide of a rhinoceros to stand firm in the face of 'helpful' advice and encouragement from others. But if you have already decided to approach your child's eating in a new way, you'll have plenty of that! Hold your ground and be confident that you are the best judge of what your child needs.