Is Your Child A "Picky Eater?": Telling A Child They’re A ‘Picky Eater’ Is Actually Name-calling
"He may be a child, but he understands there’s anger and resentment towards him when someone has to consider and/or modify what they serve him."
Picky eating in toddlers is a common occurrence for many parents. But when should a line be drawn when it comes to calling your child a ‘picky eater’?
“It’s telling them there’s something wrong with them when in fact, they are just like us: We all want different things at different times and to have some control over what we eat. Is that so bad?”
We worry – are they getting the right nutrition? Are they eating enough for their development? Am I failing as a parent?
I Get It. I’ve Been There
I’ve cracked it in frustration when my son, who’s now 12, claims he’s not hungry when he hasn’t eaten all day – and I suspect he just doesn’t want to try the new food I’ve presented.
What he wants is butter and rice, cheesy pasta, or 2-minute noodles. He’s hungry, so he wants something easy, familiar, quick to eat, satisfying in his belly.
It’s so annoying as a parent, especially when you’ve thoughtfully prepared a nutritionally balanced and delicious meal. Although, if you think about it, their attitude and desire makes sense. But too many times we as parents, or the people around us, will note this food refusal, and comment on it.
“He’s so fussy!”
“Just eat what’s in front of you.”
“He’s a picky eater.”
In those tense moments, where the dining table’s about to become a battleground, the fight isn’t about food – it’s about control.
Telling a child they’re a ‘picky eater’ is name-calling. It’s a label, and you run the risk of them deciding to live up to it for years to come.
Think of it this way: as adults, we have tastes and dislikes, so why can’t kids? Yes, I know it’s frustrating if a child won’t even try something, and it’s worrying when they only want one type of food.
But to label that common kid behaviour as ‘picky eating’ is not helping the situation – it’s telling the child there’s something wrong with them.
That’s not true, at all. In fact, they are just like us adults. We all want different things at different times, and to have some control over what we eat. Is that so bad? Of course not, but I acknowledge it’s not always easy to accept – and that, when all we want to do is ensure our kids are well-fed, it can be exhausting.
Picky Eating In Toddlers: It’s Not About What We Want
This is why, out of parental solidarity, I’m loathe to admit this truth: it’s not always just about what’s convenient for us.
My son, who’s anaphylactic to shellfish, nuts and eggs, has been called a picky eater by others many times.
He may be a child, but he understands there’s anger and resentment towards him when someone has to consider and/or modify what they serve him. Or when he won’t even try something when that person’s gone to a “huge effort” (we know, because they’ve said so) to ensure the food is allergy-safe.
I know my son feels ‘othered’ in those moments. That he feels like he’s done something wrong and that he’s ‘weird’.
I can see his refusal comes from self-protection. He’s being cautious – even over-cautious – but considering his life is literally at stake, isn’t that understandable?
Wouldn’t Most Of Us As Adults In The Same Position Do The Same Thing?
Calling a child a picky eater when the aim of the game is to get them to eat, is also counter-productive. In some ways, it gives them an excuse to repeat the behaviour.
“Oh, I don’t have to eat that, because I’m a picky eater. I don’t have to try things. Everyone knows there are only a few things I like.”
So what’s the solution? This is what’s worked for us: involve your kid in meal planning and prep. Give them options so they’re in control (before you start cooking, of course!). Watch a clip about a different cuisine. Explore different textures and scents. Model a relaxed enjoyment of food.
You could also go to a doctor to eliminate any other potential issues. I remember doing exactly that a few years ago, and was reassured that my kid’s development and nutrition was still on track. That was good to know. It helped me be less worried at mealtimes.
Because, ultimately, what we’re trying to do is teach our kids about fuelling their bodies with food, not train them to think of us as an adversary at mealtimes.
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