Claire Potter is the author of 'Getting the Little Blighters to Eat: change your children from fussy eaters into foodies' she is a mum to two children and a freelance educational writer.
Give your child their food and then say nothing about it. Talk about other stuff.
I mean, just listen to ourselves. Many of us approach mealtimes like a commentator at a football match. We watch our child’s every move, every mouthful, with words tumbling out of our mouth.
It’s pasta, your favourite... good boy...it’s yummy, isn’t it?...don’t forget to eat your peas too...mummy loves peas...why are you picking out all the bits of tuna? You love tuna. You had it in your sandwiches yesterday and you ate them all up...come on...have some more pasta please, then you can have one of those yoghurts...shall I put some on the fork for you?...you’re not having any pudding if you don’t eat a bit more.
We cajole, we urge, we nag, we instruct, we order, we plead, we bribe, we threaten. Imagine if someone did that to us every time we sat down to eat. We’d want to put our hands over our ears, push our plate away and scream “Leave me alone!” – even if it was a meal we really liked.
Of course our intentions are 100% good. We want to encourage our children to eat well, to eat healthily, to try everything, to enjoy their food. But it has the absolute opposite effect. Here’s why.
Our child can see straight through all our words to our angst and irritation with their fussiness. Even if we keep our voice light and playful, we may as well be screaming EAT IT! EAT IT! JUST EAT IT! Even a toddler can instantly see that what all our noises really mean is mummy/daddy really, really cares what I do and don’t eat – and this puts the child in an extremely powerful position. As Anna Groom, a paediatric dietitican, says:
“I don’t think fussy eating is actually about food at all in the first instance. Children quickly learn that food is the easiest area for them to get control, as well as lots of attention.”
Okay...[thinks child, twinkle in eye]...I quite like broccoli. But let’s see what happens if I don’t touch it. Ooh, yep, she’s noticed. No, she’s not happy about it. Mmm, quite a reaction!
The more you say, the more it will kindle their desire to test you, to assert their power, to dig their heels in, to fight back – exacerbating fussy eating.
You really do have much, much more chance of them eating what you want them to if you say nothing about the food. Some parents say they see a difference almost instantly, some after a few days. I urge you to try it.
Of course, it’s not easy to do. It goes against our instincts. Parents are meant to tell their children what to do. It’s how they learn a lot of what they learn. But eating is an area where it does much more damage than good.
So bite your tongue, put a sock in it, wind parcel tape around your mouth. Whatever it takes.