At some stage or another, the dining table has turned into a battleground for almost every parent as they have found themselves dealing with a fussy eater.
Whether it’s broccoli, onion or fish, trying to persuade a fussy child to eat has to be one of the most exasperating aspects of parenting.
However, you are not alone! Research has shown that eight of out ten Australian parents are concerned about their child’s eating habits. Furthermore, a third of parents worry that their children are not eating enough.
One of the most commonly reported concerns from parents, is that their child is not getting the proper nutrition that they need. It seems that while the fussy eater is happy to eat chocolate and ice-cream, as soon as anything nutritionally substantial is placed in front of them World War 3 breaks out.
Fortunately, while fussy eaters are extremely frustrating, the behaviour does not normally cause significant health, developmental or social problems. If a child is active and energetic, they are usually getting a relatively well-balanced diet.
Fussy eating is a completely normal stage of development and generally occurs between 18 months and 6 years of age.
The good news is that most children do grow out of this behaviour. Nevertheless, seeking support may help reduce parental stress, improve your child’s diet more quickly, stimulate learning and improve the quality of life of everyone in the family!
Top Tips for Dealing with Fussy Eaters
- Have fun with food: Encourage your child to play with food. Whether this entails helping you cook in the kitchen, or experimenting with different ways of eating food – try not to worry about mess, the aim is to try and get children to enjoy mealtimes and increase their sense of adventure when trying new foods.
- Remember who the parent is: While it is extremely tempting to give in when your child is throwing a tantrum, this will backfire in the long run. All giving in does is reinforce to your child that if they get upset, they will eventually get their own way! Listen to your child’s point of view, acknowledge their concerns, but be firm.
- Don’t try to bribe your child: Every parent has engaged in this, however negotiation and bribery are not effective methods for increasing food intake. Statements such as “If you eat this, you can have ice cream for dessert”, simply serve to strengthen your child’s belief that the foods they dislike are horrible, and justify their resolve to not eat them.
- Expose your child consistently to new food: Don’t give up on a food if your child says they don’t like it the first time round. Regular exposure is key. Try presenting the food in a different way, or try using smaller amounts. Like any novel activity, at first new things can be scary, however the more you try something the less scary it becomes.
- Children will eat if they are hungry: Parents often worry about their child not eating everything on their plate. However, children will not allow themselves to starve and will eat if they are hungry. If your child only eats half their beans, instead of getting angry, praise them for eating even a small amount. If a child is yelled at every time they don’t eat something, they quickly learn to dislike eating that particular food, however if they are praised, they are more likely to want to eat it again – and might even eat more of it next time round!
- Go for small regular meals over 3 large meals a day: Children have small stomachs and so digest food faster than adults. Therefore smaller, more regular meals generally work better than larger meals.
- Set a good example: Have dinner with your children and allow them to see you eating everything on your plate. Children learn by modelling their parents’ behaviour – so if you don’t eat your vegetables, why should you expect your child to eat theirs?!
If your child is testing your patience with their fussy eating behaviours, please book an appointment with one of our Brisbane Psychologists to discuss how to get your family mealtimes back on track!
Author: Ashley Cooper, B Psych (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Ashley Cooper is a registered psychologist with clinical psychology training, working with children, adolescents and adults. She is passionate about helping individuals to overcome their mental health issues and improve their quality of life.
To make an appointment with Ashley Cooper try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.