Fussy eater

Fussy eater? 6 ways to get your child to the table

In my last post I have mentioned the writing of Alfie Kohn and my interpretation of his book in relation to using praise to encourage your fussy eater to try new food (here).

Kohn suggests that we allow children as much choice as possible and as is appropriate for their age. This teaches them to be able to solve problems independently, to make their own choices and to have their own preferences.

When we are asking a child to do, or not do, something, Kohn asks us to consider whether it really is imperative that this thing is done now, or even done at all, or whether we are unnecessarily just trying to exert or maintain control “because I said so”.

When your fussy eater does need to come to the table, wash hands, etc.

If it is necessary that something is done, then Kohn asks us to negotiate instead and, if possible, reach a compromise.

Kohn proposes 6 points we should consider when a child really does need to do something we are asking of him.

I have stolen these points and applied them to food and meals:

1. Use the least intrusive strategy

It’s dinner time and you need your child to wash his hands and come to the table before it goes cold. You have asked him to do so, but he has tuned you out and continues to play, and now everyone else is waiting. Try the strategy Kohn calls “request-and-move-away”. Ask him one more time, tell him the consequences of not washing hands and coming to the table straight away (“your food will go cold and the rest of us aren’t going to wait”) and then get on with own meal. This gives him the opportunity to exert his own personal power. It probably won’t be very long after everyone else has sat down, so the food won’t have had chance to get that cold and even if it has, it’s just as nutritious, if not as tasty. Maybe next time, you can warn him when dinner is nearly ready.

2. Be honest with them

Kohn asks us to say exactly why something can’t happen or be done, rather than invent elaborate explanations and excuses, or pretend that he will enjoy it. If your four-year-old demands that you make those raisin cookies together that he likes so much and you just don’t have the time or the energy for baking today, then say so.  Work out a time when you can do this together and as far as possible, stick to your promise. Don’t tell him there are no raisins left when, chances are, he’ll know this isn’t true.

3. Explain the rationale

Rather than say “Because I said so”, Kohn encourages us to offer an explanation when something has to be done, or can’t be done. He argues that children are entitled to an explanation in the same way as adults. Rather than “Because I said so” when Harry asks for another glass of juice and is denied one, how about: “No, you can’t have another glass of juice Harry. It’s not good for your teeth.”

4. Turn it into a game

If your child doesn’t like washing his hands before coming to the table, then invent ways of making this task fun. Squelch palms together to make funny sounds, or ask him to see if he can make the soap bubbles float or fly. He’s much more likely to come and wash his hands next time. Having fun at mealtimes can help alleviate the pressure and anticipation a fussy eater, and their parents, can often feel.

5. Set an example

If you want your child to wash his hands before coming to the table, then you need to as well. If he is to come to the table when you call, then all the adults must do so too. Perhaps you can give everyone a warning when dinner is nearly ready, so that everyone can finish what they are doing.

Click here for more on mealtime behaviours to ignore.

6. Give them as much choice as possible

Fussy eater
Let your toddler choose how much to put on her plate.

The clearest example of this is by allowing your child to decide how much, if any, to serve themselves of the various foods on offer at a mealtime.  If they see the adults setting an example by taking something of everything, there is more chance that they will too. In this way, your fussy eater sees you role modelling trying a bit. She’s more likely to want to try new foods is she sees you having a go.

In my forthcoming book, I dedicate a whole chapter to the topic of choice and control as it applies to managing food refusal in fussy eaters and food behaviour (click here to find out more).

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