Of all typical childhood eating patterns, Picky Eaters tend to not only drive parents craziest, but also are probably the most common. So I decided to go back to the Q and A format, using one of the questions recently asked of me when I did my talk at the Harvard Medical School Eating Disorder Conference this past weekend:
“My 6 y/o son is a very picky eater, and despite the reassurance I’ve gotten that he is getting his nutritional needs met, I still worry that it is going to interfere with his social life or that he will get picked on by other kids at school.”
This is something that parents often worry about and it is true that kids who are picky eaters can get so extreme that it impacts on their ability to go on sleepovers, or even on playdates if they get more and more anxious about the kinds of snacks and food offered.
So here is an approach:
Try to see if he can find a reason it is getting in his way to not eat the foods you want him to try; you want to see if you can help to motivate him to go through the discomfort and perhaps fear when he does try new things.
Acknowledge that he is scared to try new things, maybe because they seem gross, or smell weird or whatever. Talk with him about some super hero of his that does things that they’re scared of. See if you can help him to stop avoiding something that is feeling noxious or making him nervous by increasing his motivation to be brave.
Validate and normalize the idea that when we have feelings of fear when faced with something that makes us uncomfortable, that we usually try to avoid feeling uncomfortable. And then by avoiding it, we give it power to scare us even more and it can get bigger and bigger in our minds and feel really scary, so we keep trying to avoid that feeling. Kind of like the boogey man! Let him be in control of the tiny steps to trying something that makes him feel gross, or uncomfortable and keep congratulating him on simply trying it. That it is so AWESOME to do something despite our discomfort and fear. You are so impressed.
DON’T use dessert as a weapon. It will over glorify dessert and is not fair if he is eating enough food that does nutritious foods for his body. Besides which it will totally backfire in the future and set him up to hoard and secretly grab desserts when he isn’t with you. Doesn’t help at all.