As parents, we want to understand our children's behaviours in order to better support them. There are many, many causes of picky eating, but in this post I focus on one that is not often spoken of; temperament.Read More
In this article, I explore reasons why some toddlers struggle with sitting at the table for meals. And I offer two strategies which will help. Look out for my free 'toddler dining chair checklist'!Read More
Serving food 'family style' is a great strategy for picky eaters - in this post I explore how it has other benefits for your child besides helping them access a more varied diet.Read More
This post explores the challenges of parenting a picky eater when you're not necessarily on the same page as your partner AND what to do about it.Read More
Sometimes it really can feel like the end of the road for parents. If you have completely run out of ideas, the strategy I share in this post can be the beginning of your child's journey towards a varied diet.Read More
Are you emotionally invested in your child's eating? Yes! Of course you are. Because caring deeply about your child's health and well-being is at the heart of being a loving parent. But what happens when you care too much?Read More
At the heart of my work with the parents of picky eaters is a secret. An idea that is extremely simple and yet can be very hard to accept. I call it 'The Feeding Paradox'. Here it is. 'The harder you try, the worse things will get'
This EAF principle is all about the importance of your emotional reaction to your child's eating. Why is it important? Well, because your feelings have a profound effect on your child's eating behaviour.Read More
I read an article from the US news channel CBS the other day, about Canadian research that explores the influence of parenting style on childhood obesity. The findings were stark:
"Kids with demanding parents who are rigid about rules, stingy with affection and won't discuss limits are far more likely to be obese than children whose parents practice a more balanced parenting style..."
This called to mind similar research I had read into how parenting style can impact upon picky eating. One study* found that, put simply, the nicer the atmosphere at the table, the less picky the child is likely to be. Another looked at how families interact and concluded that the levels of conflict at the table and how controlling parents were influenced how much children consumed, with higher levels of control leading to an increase in fussiness and food rejection**.
I think it's really interesting that the Canadian research pointed to the fact that children who are not used to having the freedom to discuss and question things (and are therefore unlikely to be in the habit of being empowered to make their own decisions) are more likely to be obese. And this is where I would speculate that these different findings converge - when children are not able to eat in a relaxed environment and when parents are trying to control children's eating choices, food starts to get used dysfunctionally.
Food and Feelings
For some children , they may overeat and gain excess weight. For others, they may choose to reject food. It's as though when parents interrupt the child's ability to self-regulate by being excessively controlling, children begin to make choices about what to eat for emotional rather than physiological reasons.
Self -regulation is such an important concept to understand when dealing with a picky eater (or a child who is clinically obese) that it merits it's own dedicated post... (it's on my list!) To summarise, self-regulation in relation to eating is the process whereby a child listens to her body's cues (hunger or fullness) and decides to eat or stop eating as appropriate. When a child eats in response to external cues such as feeling sad or wanting to gain a sense of control, healthy self-regulation goes out the window.
What can we take from this?
- Do your best to engender a positive, relaxed atmosphere at the table
- Don't try to control what your child eats
- Be relatively laid back about manners
- Think about your parenting style - is it rigid and authoritarian or are you authoritative and keen to develop your child's faculty for independent thought?
To find out more about the distinction between an authoritative and authoritarian parenting style, read this simple overview by Kendra Cherry
*D.Burnier, L.Dubois, M. Girard (2011) Arguments at Mealtime and Child Energy Intake, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 473-481
**B. Carruth, J. Skinner, K. Houck, J.Moran III, F. Coletta & D. Ott (1998) The Phenomenon of “Picky Eater”: A Behavioral Marker in Eating Patterns of Toddlers. Journal of the American College of Nutritionists, Vol.17, No. 2, pp. 180-186