I have spent a long time noticing and reflecting on the different ways parents try to make their children eat. In my book, I split these into several broad categories:
- Cajoling – this is where we gently persuade, often involving comedy trains and aeroplanes….
- Incentivising – you know the one; if you eat your beans you can have a star on your chart / a sticker / your pudding…
- Pleading – “just one more bite… for mummy?”
- The authoritarian approach – “eat it because I say so”
- Reasoning – often invoking the god of nutrition; eat it because “you need vitamins” / “it will make you big and strong”
- Comparing – this is where we use siblings or friends to try to get a child to try something ” Look – Jack LOVES his fish”
- Tempting -extolling the virtues of whatever it is we want them to taste, in the hope that they will be unable to resist
All of the above involve giving your child attention for not eating or being negative about food, and all of them are therefore experienced by your child as a kind of ‘pay-off’. Continue reading
American sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert, Dina Rose PhD is the author of the fantastic ‘It’s Not About the Broccoli’.
I reviewed her book back in January and loved her approach. Like me, Dina helps parents understand that when it comes to feeding your kids, it’s more important to help them develop a positive relationship with food than to simply focus on getting as much healthy food down them as possible. Here’s how Dina answered my questions:
1.Can you tell my readers a bit about your journey into the world of picky eating? What made you decide to get involved in this field?
My mother died of obesity-related illnesses when I was pregnant with my daughter, over 13 years ago. She was only 65 years old. When my daughter was born, I was consumed with answering the question, “How do you teach kids to eat right?” Continue reading
I love it when readers get in touch with their questions about picky eating. It’s funny how the same things come up again and again… It might feel like you are alone, but believe me, you’re not. Despite unique situations and cultural differences, parents thousands of miles apart are going through the same things. When I got the following email from Sheila and Lisa about their two sons (aged 8 and 10) and then a client asked me the same question the very next day, I felt it deserved a blog post. Here’s part of what Sheila and Lisa wrote *
Hello, Ms. Cormack,
My partner and I read your book and loved it. TONIGHT we implemented the new system and we were thrilled with how well it worked. Our two boys, ages 8 and 10, certainly grumbled, and the youngest really pushed hard because he didn’t want to eat the corn on his plate. We held firm ……………….
……..As it turned out, he finally ate his corn and enjoyed some snicker noodle cookies for dessert. My partner and I are at an impasse on how to handle second helpings. She thinks we should let them have second helpings of their favorite items if they have at least tasted the item that they don’t want, say, maybe, three bites. I say no. We didn’t remember this being addressed in your book. Could you weigh in?
Lisa and Sheila
Dana Snook is a family nutrition expert based in New Jersey, USA. When we were chatting over twitter and Dana mentioned that she had done some training with Ellyn Satter that had radically changed how she worked with families , I was keen to hear more. I invited Dana to write a guest post about what she had got from learning from Ellyn Satter and how it had shaped her as a professional.
I can remember the excitement when I accepted my first Pediatric Registered Dietitian position. I took the position with only a small amount of experience,but ready to learn everything I could. The realism hit, when the retired pediatric dietitian who was training me was less than impressed with my lack of experience and even more so my thoughts on feeding children. She wanted me to give meal plans, calculate calories and even put kids on diets. Let’s just say, it felt wrong…really wrong! So rather than learning from someone with LOTS of experience, I went right to trusty old Google. What I stumbled upon was so much more than just WHAT to feed your family, but HOW to feed your family. It is called the Division of Responsibility of Feeding by Ellyn Satter. Continue reading
Rewarding with food is standard parenting practice – for example, many parents use sweet treats to encourage their child to use the potty, or to recognise good behaviour. This gives the child the following message: “I approve of you, and so you can have sweet food” . To take it a step further, from the child’s point of view, it equates eating sweet food with feeling loved. EAF is all about separating food from feelings so that children eat for physiological rather than emotional reasons.
Rewarding with food fuses food and feelings.
Consider adult comfort eating Continue reading
This EAF principle is all about the importance of your emotional reaction to your child’s eating. Why is it important? Well, because your feelings have a profound effect on your child’s eating behaviour.
Keep it real
The first thing to understand is that, however hard you try, you just can’t hide your true feelings from a child. You might think you’ve done a pretty good job but children are emotional sponges – whilst they often don’t understand or even have the words for many of the feelings around them, they certainly experience them. They absorb your anxiety, your frustration and your pleasure, whether you want them to or not.
All of this then influences how they behave. If you want your child’s eating decisions to be disentangled from her feelings (and if you practice EAF, this will be a central goal) you need to be very self-aware and learn to be genuinely calm in the face of your child’s reactions to food.
First of all, you have to understand why you feel the way you do. Why does your son or daughter refusing food that you have taken time to prepare make you feel so…worried / furious / frustrated (delete as applicable). As parents, feeding our children is almost our raison d’être – it’s how we ensure the very survival of the human race. It’s part of how we express our love, how we nurture our children. When feeding goes wrong, this can be very challenging emotionally. Coupled with this very natural urge to ensure that our children eat well, we all have our own relationships with food coupled with many complex influences from our own childhoods. All of this needs processing in order to get to a point where it’s possible to feel genuinely calm at mealtimes.
Ok, so having decided to aim for calm, upbeat meals, how do you make that vision a reality? This is something I write about in detail in my book, but here’s some pointers :
- Have your child weighed and measured by a health professional, that way you can be reassured that their growth is normal (as research shows us it is in the vast majority of picky eaters)
- Understand your own ‘food legacy’ ( part of the emotional baggage each of us carries with us from childhood) I explain more about this here.
- Focus on positive social interactions at the table - make the talk about what everyone has done that day, what’s going past the window, ANYTHING but what your child is or isn’t eating. This includes letting manners slide for a bit. It’s hard to keep things positive when you’re being critical about the finer points of table etiquette.
This month I will be publishing a series of posts summarising the EAF rules. If you don’t have time to read my book about picky eating, or you prefer your parenting advice in small bites, this series is for you. Although it is based in psychological theory and research, EAF is a straightforward and practical philosophy that can be reduced to a few simple rules and principles. Here is the first :
‘Never praise or criticise how or what your child is eating’
Mealtime criticism comes in many forms. It’s very easy to compare your child’s eating to that of siblings “why can’t you be a good eater like Isobel?” This makes your child feel labelled and will actually make picky eating worse. It’s amazing how children will live up to your expectations, both positive or negative. Continue reading