It’s Not Your Fault
Does your day ever sound like this?
- Your child refuses to eat yesterday’s “favorite” food.
- You’re frequently battling with your child to “just take a bite,” but they push their full plate of food to the side no matter what you do.
- Your child is yelling because you served store-brand chicken nuggets since Tyson’s dino nuggets were sold out.
- Mealtime is one of the most defeating and frustrating times of the day
- You’re constantly concerned about your child’s weight and overall growth
- You’re sick of hearing comments from your family about how little Johnny will “eat when he’s hungry” or that you shouldn’t be making a special meal for him
We get it. And no matter what judgment your family or friends are passing on, or the judgment that you’re placing on yourself, we’re here to tell you: it’s not your fault.
Picky eating is quite common among children. A study completed in 2017 found the prevalence of picky eating to be 22% between ages 4-30 months (Cole et al., 2017), but depending on what study you look at, that can increase to about 50% across childhood. Also, picky eating isn’t always something that “just happens” as your little one grows into toddlerhood. There are often clues from birth – things we don’t always think about, such as difficulty with bottle feeding or difficulty starting/progressing to solids; things we can’t control.
There are so many factors that could be related to why your little one is struggling with eating, and again, these are factors we can’t control. It’s important to determine the root cause of the problem, otherwise you will not see progress at home or during therapy. Here are some factors that can lead to picky eating:
- Child temperament (slow to change, does not like new things, easily stimulated, over-stimulated)
- Pain or discomfort with feeding (from things such as reflux or allergy-some allergies are extremely difficult to diagnose such as EoE (Eosinophilic Esophagitis) and take special testing to examine and determine if they are present)
- Negative past experiences with feeding (pain, coughing, vomiting or gagging during feeding)
- Sudden scary choking event
- Negative experiences related to the mouth (history of NG tubes, oral procedures, being on a ventilator, surgeries)
- Time spent in the hospital as a baby, perhaps in the NICU
- Slow emptying of the stomach (gastroparesis)
- Chronic constipation, intermittent constipation (if food is not coming out, food will not go in!)
- Poor oral motor skills (dysphagia)
- Low muscle tone/high muscle tone
- Developmental delays (wide variety)
- Certain developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder
- Anxiety (anxiety specifically around food is commonly referred to as ARFID)
- Sensory differences (hypersensitivity to taste, smell, or texture)
- Chronic health problems (ear infections, frequent respiratory infections, dental problems, seizures)
Here’s one thing I know that isn’t said enough: as rewarding as it is, parenting is tough. There really is no one right way to parent and no one parenting method that is going to work for every child. There are, however, some factors and strategies that will help support your picky eater, and some that can make the situation more stressful for you and your child.
- Frequent adult/child conflict, which can increase anxiety, especially during mealtimes, and increase picky eating.
- Trying to force/pressure your child to eat (this can have the opposite effect!).
- Parental anxiety – I know, I know, this does make it sound like your child’s picky eating could be your fault, but I promise that’s not how I mean it. There is a lot of societal and familial pressure and judgment surrounding feeding children – what we should be feeding children, how and how much, etc. This creates pressure on the child (they’re always listening!) and on you. Children are very aware of our anxieties as parents, and they take on whatever we’re feeling; our anxiety becomes their anxiety, which can lead to increased picky eating. Instead of allowing your anxiety to fester following unwanted comments, here are a few things you could say instead:
- “Let’s just focus on this time together”
- “You can stop eating when your tummy is full”
- “We’re working on his/her feeding at home and during therapy, we’ve got this”
The most important thing to do is to educate yourself, get help if you need it, and then know that you’re doing what is best for your child and for your family. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Your picky eater today may grow to love cooking and trying new flavors later.
So, just to reiterate: You are not the cause of their picky eating. Let yourself off the hook. Think about all of the great things that you do for your child and how much support you’re already providing them.
If you are struggling with your picky eater or have concerns about your child’s eating, a feeding therapist can help guide you through your journey. They can complete a comprehensive feeding evaluation and help ensure you are referred to an appropriate specialist to determine the root cause behind your child’s picky eating and a course of action.
Kelly is an SLP and a feeding specialist who also specializes in using hypnosis, among other therapeutic techniques, to support feeding difficulties, weight management, and anxiety. If you have questions, please reach out to Kelly at Infinity Hypnosis. Kelly can answer your questions over a free phone consultation where she can further discuss feeding therapy and/or how hypnosis works and how hypnosis could help you or your loved one’s specific needs. Contact Kelly and Infinity Hypnosis at [email protected] or check out her website at https://infinityhypnosis.com/ to book a free consultation.
Cole NC, An R, Lee SY, Donovan SM. Correlates of picky eating and food neophobia in young children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2017;75(7):516–32. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nux024