As a mom of twins and a pediatric speech-language pathologist who specializes in feeding with over ten years experience, I’m overly aware as a professional, friend and parent of the common issue with getting our kids to eat. Whether they’re a picky eater or a problem feeder, the principles of feeding are the same. Here are five things I would like to share to help your picky eater:
1. If you want your child to eat it, you have to eat it first. Many times, picky eaters have parents who are picky eaters. Eating is a learned behavior after six months.They watch and learn so go ahead and chew with your mouth open mom and dad, worry about table manners much later. This also leads to avoiding “kids meals.” Parents do this all the time; they make one thing for mom and dad and something entirely different for the kids because they know they will eat it. The message your sending to the kids is that they are not going to like what you’re having. Serve family style or mini replicas of what you are eating. I recommend the book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby Grow Up Happy by Tracey Murkett and Gill Rapley.
2. Sounds counter-intuitive, but convince them that they are not expected to eat it. The only control your child has over eating is by refusing to eat it. They typically don’t get to plan their meals, at least in the beginning, or get to choose how to prepare their food. Refusing to eat something is the only way they have some control. Having control makes our kids feel safe. Feeling safe is their priority, not eating. When you say, “You don’t have to eat it,” it lowers the anxiety for both parties. When stress is present, appetite is not.
3. Be Patient and stay POSITIVE. It took one of my boys 3 weeks to eat eggs and I watched him go through the STEPS of eating. To do this, know the STEPS of eating. Print it out, put it on fridge, learn it and live it. This is how kids typically learn how to eat and it was developed by Dr.Kay Toomey. She created the SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) feeding therapy protocol. Staying POSITIVE includes your reaction to gagging and coughing. This is hard, it’s natural to freak out when your child looks like their about to throw up or choke. Remember gagging and coughing are our bodies defense mechanisms to keep us from choking. When we freak out, we confirm their fear and they may attach that to the food and will never try it again. When we stay calm and cheer them on, they feel secure and are willing to try that food again.
4. Do No Force Feed or try to “trick” them to eat something. This will only cause them to not trust you, which leads to increased aversion. Remember you are their model, if they are not eating it, model something easier like licking or squishing it. Refer to the STEPS.
5. Get MESSY.
My advice is to get a dog if you don’t already have one, they help keep the floor clean. Kids love to pour and throw, smoosh, crumble, tear, mix and wear. Let your kids experiment every once in awhile. This helps with the STEPS. It also is a great way for your child to develop a positive relationship with food.