Having picky eaters can drive any parent insane. There is nothing worse than being faced with a child who won’t for whatever reason, eat. Even if they’re normal on the growth chart, it’s still supremely worrying for any mom or dad to watch their little one turn their nose up at all but a very limited type of food.

If you’re faced with this dilemma, perhaps you have tried every idea in the book. You’ve made alien planet landing craft shapes out of dinner, played games or disguised veggies or other healthy foods any way you can and still your little one has his or her mouth firmly closed.

The only way to stop you from raising a picky eater


Follow this story for how picky eaters develop

If this is something you’re struggling with, I want to start by taking you on a story of how picky eating issues often develop. Let’s pretend there’s a mom with a little girl who has been eating pretty well since she introduced solid foods. One day, at breakfast her little girl decides to snap her mouth firmly shut and there just isn’t any way that mom can get that spoon any where near her. Now if mom just shrugs her shoulders, stays calm and assumes her child is full, all is well and good. Perhaps she just gently takes a wet cloth to that firmly closed mouth and let’s her little one get down, unfazed by the whole refusal thing.

If you show concern, your child will react to that

But let’s pretend that instead of reacting calmly, this mom harbours worries about her child’s small size. “Oh, my baby girl’s only in the 5th Percentile for weight…yikes!’ Mum approaches the meal with trepidation. She’s worried and shows it. When the child’s mouth closes firmly, the child can see the tension in her mom’s face and her posture. Mom doesn’t give up but tries to play a game instead, moving the spoon all around in a pleasant high pitched voice. When that doesn’t work or ceases working after a while, she starts to plead and when her husband or other support person comes in the room, they talk about the ‘eating problem’ in hushed voices with anxious tones.

The tension builds

Each meal becomes progressively worse. You see, the child can feel the anxiety and the adults for their part, start to act as if they know there will be a problem with the meal. You can cut the tension with a knife. Nobody talks as the spoon approaches their little one’s mouth. Every one waits expectantly. The child realizes they are the center of attention and can feel the anxiety around the table. This is not a comfortable feeling.

Natural leadership goes out of the window

Suddenly the little girl feels weird, unprotected, out of control because her rock is faltering and her adult family members are looking concerned. Deep down within the child has a desperate need for assurance. The little girl needs to know her parents know how to handle her and now that rock that she has relied on for so long, has suddenly disintegrated. Every meal it gets worse and soon more and more foods are being pushed away. Now she’s only eat yogurt or cereal. Mum gets upset and calls friends to talk about the problem or chats at playtime with the other moms over what to do.

Changing the approach multiple times, creates issues

Last but not least, every couple of days she tries something new, hopeful as she approaches the meal that this will finally cure the picky eating. She takes the child to a doctor and maybe a specialist, all of whom poke and prod her child and focus on the ‘problem.’ Not much changes.

Ok, so even though this is a pretend story you can see how this mother’s anxiety and trepidation and expectations around meals eventually ended up sustaining the very behaviour she wanted to stop.

So what can you do?

As a parent the way the best way to handle picky eaters is to make sure you provide three regular meals a day and leave it up to your child whether or not to eat them. By making sure you don’t provide snacks until they are eating properly, you allow them to develop the natural hunger to push them in the right direction.

If they come to the table and eat normally, spend lots of time chatting and engaging them in conversation. If they don’t, completely ignore them. Kids are remarkably good at doing what’s in their best interest if you can relax enough to allow that to develop. Tough I know but so worth it.

This is a guest post from Annie the Nanny, whose parenting website offers behavior intervention services and general parenting support.

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