Spend any amount of time around strong-willed children, and you’ll quickly discover just how common it is for kids to be finicky about something.
Some forms of fussy behavior are easier to ignore than others. Though it might be annoying, you can generally make it work if your daughter insists on wearing princess dresses every day, or your son says he will only brush his teeth using a red toothbrush.
But, unfortunately, other hard-to-please behaviors that sometimes pop up as a phase of child development, like choosiness when it’s time to eat, can be intimidating and harder to deal with. But don’t give up. You are not alone, and a different outcome at mealtime is possible.
Keep reading to learn how to avoid mealtime battles and raise kids who aren’t afraid of food (and might even be willing try new, healthy things).
Nutrition and children’s eating disorders
We all know that kids can’t live on highly-processed food. The problem arises, though, once children are introduced to “junk food,” it’s love at first bite. These unhealthy foods can quickly become their preference, going from a treat they get to have every once in a while while to something they crave all of the time.
Instead of having to set standards for moderation, set a good example instead. Only keep healthy, nutritious food in your house that you want your family to eat. It’s so much easier to say, “Sorry, but we don’t have any Twinkies” than it is to say, “No, you can’t have any Twinkies.”
Fixing poor eating habits
The (power) struggle is real when your child refuses to eat meals and snacks, but here are some strategies you can try to re-establish healthy eating habits.
Create a routine that works
Help your child establish healthy eating habits by setting a mealtime schedule and sticking to it. Sit down for meals at the same time every day, and set a regular time for snacks (of only healthy foods) to ensure your child has an appetite when it’s time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Tip: When it’s time to eat, keep the focus on the food.
Turn off the tv, put away the iPad, and get rid of any other distractions.
Ditch the labels
When you call your child a “picky eater,” it takes this one negative behavior and ties it to their identity, planting the seeds for a negative voice in their head that makes them feel bad about their aversion to eat.
Instead, try to do what you can to be their cheerleader. Change the conversation, and help them remember there is more to their worth than what they will—or won’t—eat. Take this situation as an opportunity to help them understand this is only temporary, and everyone has the power to change.
Most kids are people-pleasers. They hunger for praise and attention. Often, they don’t want you to think they’re a “bad kid.” That’s why, most of the time, negative feedback won’t motivate them to abandon their choosiness.
Make your child feel like they are solving a problem. Avoid using:
- Pressure (“Just try it. Your grandma made this especially for you!”)
- Shame (“Two bites isn’t enough! You need to eat more to grow big and strong.”)
- Bribes (“I’ll give you a dollar if you clean your plate!”)
Recognize your child’s efforts at mealtime—however small—and provide consistent praise as a way to encourage them to make more slow-but-steady steps towards healthier eating.
It can be emotionally taxing to deal with this issue. Don’t forget to treat yourself with kindness, too. Like most things involved with being a parent or caregiver, it takes a lot of hard work and conviction to always stay positive.
Help when it’s more than picky eating
A child’s loss of appetite may also be caused by a hidden medical problem, such as:
- Food sensitivity
- Anorexia nervosa
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
- Other medical conditions
In most cases, meal-time power struggles are short-lived, but if you sense your child is rigidly limiting what they eat because of an underlying health problem, the experts at Logansport Memorial Hospital can help.
Our friendly, board-certified pediatricians focus on caring for children from birth through adolescence. Request an appointment online or by calling (574) 753-4151.