Is it my fault my child is picky?
I always ask parents why they think their child struggles to eat. Many give me a list of all the
things they feel they have done wrong. Others really struggle to give an answer as food has just always seemed so challenging for their child.
So, is it my fault I have a picky child?
It’s natural to blame ourselves when things go wrong, especially with one of the things we feel is a core responsibility, like feeding.
I see a few key phases/periods when fussy eating seems to start, and you can probably identify with one of these.
1. From baby. Your child never seemed to get into food. Right from the start they were not enthusiastic and it’s not easy. They may even have been a baby that was uncomfortable with a change in formula, for example, it goes that far back.
2. Soon after baby. Your child takes food initially but soon after seems to find it difficult and is not interested in eating.
3. Toddler. Almost overnight your puree/family food loving baby starts refusing everything and you find yourself down to only a few options.
4. Traumatic event/life. Something happens. Your child gets sick and spends two weeks hardly eating. When they are well again the whole eating landscape seems to have changed. Or you go on holidays and the food is different and your child struggles to eat for the two weeks and again, once home everything seems more challenging. There are many different versions of this, but the outcome is the same, a child who was eating well and suddenly doesn’t seem able to.
5. Gradual. Baby eats well and all is going along as expected. Your child drops the odd food here and there but nothing drastic. Suddenly you take inventory (often when you are travelling or a relative stays etc.) and you realise that your child’s diet has become incredibly limited.
6. Compromise. This often happens during periods when life is particularly busy or stressful, for example, with a new baby, a sibling who’s unwell or moving house. There are too many plates spinning, so we are just coping. Food becomes a lower priority and meals that are eaten easily are top of the list. It seems to happen so quickly, our veggie eating child is suddenly only accepting pasta, nuggets and crackers.
Is it my fault though?
If your child is one who has struggled from really early on or never took to food at all, there is (or was) generally something additional in the picture that is preventing them from eating comfortably. This could be anything from undiagnosed allergies, to sensory sensitivities, to ASD or GERD.
It’s important that whatever was preventing them from eating well is identified and if possible, rectified. If it’s due to co-factors that will always be present it’s finding ways to support more confident eating, and this can be done.
It definitely does not mean that all is lost, and we are able to support them to eat well.
If your child ate well and then stopped, either gradually or due to an event, it is usually easier to build back variety in their diet. The younger we begin, the less habits to overcome!
What to do now?
Eating is complicated. It’s physical, emotional, social and mental and all of these impact on how comfortable we are around foods.
1. It’s making sure we have everything supporting progress in terms of language, dynamics and approach.
2. It’s building a comfort level with new foods/or previously eaten foods for our child.
3. It’s gently and consistently offering foods that are not currently eaten, but not pushing our child to eat them.
All of this sounds very simple, and it is. Not easy, but it is simple.
What can we do:
– Consistently work with our child and have a system for ensuring they are really supported with their eating.
– Focus on our child learning to eat new foods.
– Not giving up but working for long-term gains.
This all pays off and enables progress.
Eating is complicated but making progress often doesn’t have to be.
If you feel that you have created the problem, you can also be the solution, and it may not be as much of a challenge as you’re anticipating!
Judith 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.