How important YOU are for fixing your child’s fussy eating?
Let’s start by stating you are critical! Even if you feel you are drowning right now and nothing you do makes a difference, or that your child is getting worse, not better. Or if you dread meals and stress about nutritional deficits. YOU are still the most important factor when it comes to your child’s eating.
One of my favourite phrases is “no one is as invested, spends as much time or knows a child like a parent”. Even if you outsource and get help with some aspects of your child’s eating support, you are still the one who drives it:
– You decide that help is required
– You figure out what is needed and when
– You coordinate, pay, and follow up
– In many cases, you are a key part of implementing new strategies
Because we are the most important factor that can feel overwhelming especially if things are not working well right now. If I’m the key, what happens if it’s all going to sludge?
The converse argument is that it’s exciting to know that you can make a difference. And you can. I do not say this lightly, I say this with years of experience watching parents who are truly invested supporting children who are at the worst end of the picky eating spectrum.
So, how can we make a difference?
How parents can help their child’s fussy eating
1. Seek help – this may seem a little counterintuitive to you being the answer but bear with me! Is your child’s eating not improving and hasn’t in months (years?) or may even be going backwards.
If this is the case, why would they suddenly magically snap out of it? If the general trend is down, what stops that, turns it around and gets them going in the opposite direction?
Good questions to ask are:
– Is my child able to try new foods? – if they are unable, how can they go forwards?
– Are they dropping foods previously eaten? – if they are dropping foods then they are not going forwards.
– Are they becoming more uncomfortable around food and feeding? – if food is more difficult is it likely that they will eat more variety in the short-term?
If you are seeing these warning signs and feel you have tried everything in your toolbox to fix things and nothing is working. Or little things work here and there but there is no overall progress then why not seek help?
Checking to make sure there is nothing physical preventing eating can be a good place to start. Once it’s confirmed that nothing is obviously wrong, then looking for support is the same as asking for help if your child struggles to walk or talk or read.
2. Be confident – there is definitely a reason I’m ‘The Confident Eater’. It is possibly the most important ingredient in supporting anyone to eat more comfortably and widely.
As a parent what we think and what we do has an enormous impact on how our children are able to manage. If we believe that our child is stuck in their eating patterns and will never eat more widely, how heavily does that weigh on them?
If I tell myself I’m too old to run, I probably am. If I tell myself losing weight is impossible, it probably is. If I think I’ll fail my exams then it’s not going to help me get A’s! Our minds are powerful machines and the way we think about things impacts dramatically on our actions.
If we believe our child will read and continually approach books with that front of mind, eventually they do read. Having that same long-term conviction about eating and communicating that to our child is critical.
3. Be in charge – if you ask yourself honestly who is making the decisions around food in your house, what’s the answer? And don’t feel bad if your 3, 10- or 15-year-old seems to be at the wheel. Feeding a child who isn’t super comfortable around food is a huge challenge and often fed is best.
But, if we are not in charge of food and feeding it makes change impossible. Gently getting control back into our corner is essential, even if we have a child who is super uncomfortable around meals.
Being in charge can look like:
– Deciding what gets served (while still including foods a child can eat)
– Scheduling meals so we decide when it’s time to eat, not feeding our child when they ask for food
– Having family rules around meals, for example, everyone comes to the table, or we don’t get down from the chair until dinner is over.
Being in charge may be different for every family and will look different depending on your parenting style and your child’s eating challenges, but you are the one calling the shots!
4. Not being in the middle – although it’s important we are in charge we should also not be in the middle of the relationship our child has with food. What I mean by this operates on a number of levels. Micromanaging what our child eats rarely works. For example:
– Watching every mouthful or having a running commentary on what they eat or don’t doesn’t make for comfort around food.
– Pushing certain foods or volumes is counterproductive.
– Believing they will only eat if we are encouraging them or spoon feeding them. Many parents fall into this trap – with the best of intentions – but it takes away agency and prevents them from learning to eat independently.
5. Set the scene – one of the critical components that supports a fussy eater to make progress is the environment. It’s such an important part of eating competence but is less frequently talked about than other factors.
A parent being in charge, being confident and not being in the middle of the feeding relationship, all play into this. But it also about so much more. For example:
– Are mealtimes relaxed and fun? If not we are probably stopping progress before it starts. No one is going to be excited about eating if they are feeling anxious, stressed, or angry.
– Is our child being given the opportunity to eat new foods? If they get served their favourites over and over it makes progress challenging.
– Do they know what to do? Are they watching a role model eating so they learn how to do it? Does your child see you tucking into the salad with pleasure?
Eating is a complex process, and when it goes wrong it can seem impossible to get things back on track.
However, as parents we are a crucial part of the puzzle. Believing we can make a difference is a great first step.
If you would like to have a chat about how we can help you, please feel free to book in a time to talk. I’m always happy to discuss your unique situation and look for simple ways to support you to help your child: https://calendly.com/judith-23/bookatimewithjudith?month=2022-08
Judith, MA Cantab, is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/