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morning fey
morning fey asks:
Q:

Pick eater help?

My new 6 year old stepson is a very picky eater. In addition to what the rest of the family is eating, I have to make one of the 2 veggies and 2 pastas or rice that he likes just for him. All topped in parmesan or they won't be eaten. He'll eat grilled cheese, cut in 8 pieces, and french toast, cut in 9,  but if the bread is anywhere near to dark for his liking, he'll refuse it.  My husband (a teacher with a degree in psychology) doesn't want to bat heads with the boy and feels that as long as he's getting enough nutrition, it's fine. If my husband tries to get him to eat his veggies, he wines and refuses. Once my husband, after debating and arguing for about 15 minutes over uneaten beans, tried to bribe him with a treat! I put a stop to that one.  He has no consequence to his actions, so, why should he not do whatever he wants?

My 6 year old son son will eat just about anything because I started young.  He's a great eater but he's beginning to question why he has to eat his dinner if his brother doesn't.

My opinion is, don't get into a power struggle. Duh right? My husband lets the boy win by engaging him. First of all I feel like he should be required to at least try what we're all eating. If it was me, I would not be debating. I'd tell him that we were all going to have desert of a treat later and anyone who eats gets rewarded. If he says no, dinner goes in the trash and no debate, but no treat. Any help or suggestions?
In Topics: My picky eater
> 60 days ago

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Expert

Hand in Hand
Jul 10, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Dear morning fey:

I will refer you to an article I've written about helping children with some of the emotional issues that often underlie intense feelings about food. When children have tiny issues that spark big feelings (like the grilled cheese being cut into 6 pieces instead of 8) you can bet that there are earlier, possibly totally unrelated emotional memories that get triggered, again and again, by food.

One of the really good things you can do that's creative and fun for all is for YOU to play the picky eater. You pick up a bean, look at it suspiciously, sniff it, and throw it back down on your plate with a loud "Yuck." Then pick it up again and make faces. Put your tongue on it for a second, and make disgusted noises. This will probably bring laughter from your son, and cries of "Do it again!" The laughter releases important tensions connected with food and eating, and lighten the tone at dinnertime. If you play the picky eater, doing what lets him laugh (but never tickling him to secure laughter--that's not useful at all), over and over, you may see him being a bit more adventurous over time.

There's more to this Playlistening approach, and other Listening Tools you can try, that are described in the article cited below.

You're right to refuse to turn dinner time into a bartering session over what foods will get him which treats. Good for you. The sensitivities around food will loosen when your son has some chances to have big, long cries or tantrums because you're holding a reasonable limit, but are holding him, supporting him, and caring about him while he mourns what he isn't allowed to do or get, and while he is very upset with you about it. Crying in your arms, mad at you the whole time, but with you there to pour in the reassurance that he can make it through this emotional episode just fine, will help him become more resilient, and less fussy, over time.

Here's more about this approach, called "Parenting by Connection," at the website below.

Hope this helps,

Yours,

Patty Wipfler
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Additional Answers (3)

lkauffman
lkauffman writes:
Dear Morning Fey,

As you know, dealing with with a picky eater can be a very challenging process. It is not uncommon for children of all ages (and adults) to have a few foods on their "most hated" list. However, a much smaller percentage, less than a quarter of all young children, actually qualify as "picky eaters", rejecting most foods that they are presented with. Typically, children dislike foods with strong smells (spicy foods are notoriously troublesome for young ones), tough textures (vegetables get a bad rap here), or a high "chewiness" factor (meat falls into this category).

Many experts agree that children begin to grow out of their picky eating ways once they begin school as the pressure to fit in grows and brings children to new foods. However, some children continue to resist new foods and there are a few steps that parents can take to ease children out of their picky eating ways:

1. Parents should not force their children to eat. This can result in gagging or vomiting.

2. Try and maintain a pleasant mealtime atmosphere and institute a consistent meal schedule, so that children can see that meals are an important family event and associate family meals with positive feelings. Consider initiating conversations about their day, current events, etc.

3. Try to minimize conversations about your child's eating in front of your child. Avoid bribes, pressure, criticizing, or excessive praise. As one expert wrote, "Children should eat to satisfy their appetite, not to please you."

4. It is acceptable to make occasional substitutes for the main dish, however, you should not be preparing extra meals. You may allow your child to eat breakfast cereal or a simple sandwich prepared by him as a substitute. It is important that you do not reinforce your child's picky eating by catering to his food whims.

5. Encourage your child to try new foods. Don't focus on bites; just serve the food repeatedly and invite your child to taste it.

Hope that helps. Good luck.

L. Compian, Ph.D.
Counseling Psychologist
Education.com Expert Panel

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Redwood_City_Mom
Redwood_Cit... writes:
Hi morning fey,

I feel your pain!!! Unfortunately, I'm "guilty" of being more like your husband than you so I first want to congratulate you on helping your son learn to eat lots of foods right from the start.

Both of my son's (now aged 4 & 6) have long been on the too thin side so I ended up catering to their pickiness just because I was so worried that they wouldn't get enough calories otherwise. I SO regret that I "trained" them to expect their favorite foods at every meal now and am having to take some disruptive actions to try to get them back on track.

I think you're doing the right thing by not having fights but simply saying "whoever eats their dinner gets a treat". You may want to go a step further and (together with your husband) let your stepson know that he needs to try at least one bite of everything on his plate in order to be excused from the table. This has been very effective with my six year old (not as much with my 4 year old). Have a conversation with him (maybe not at the table in the "heat of the moment") about all the advantages there are to eating lots of food (its much better for his body, it can be really fun, it will make it easier for him to eat at friends' houses, etc). It might help to start with some of your son's favorites and other foods your stepson is really likely to enjoy. It may also help to give your stepson a few options when you're planning the meal so that he feels like he has a bit of control. And I always find that my kids are more likely to eat something if they get to help with the ingredient shopping and the cooking. (Big exception here is meat!) Also, remind your stepson that our bodies sometimes need to try things up to 10 times before we like them! (So he shouldn't give up on a new food if he doesn't like it the first time he tries it).

Your situation is even more complicated because of your blended family. If you have a good relationship with your stepson's mom, it may help to talk to her so that she can start to do some of the same things. I think you can keep your son motivated to continue to eat well by having an honest conversation with him. You can just say something like "You're really lucky because you've always been a great eater. Billy is having a hard time learning to eat all the foods we eat. You can really help him by being a great example".

Good luck!
> 60 days ago

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morning fey
morning fey writes:
Redwood, thanks for the reply. Unfortunatly, my husband won't even begint he battle of asking him to taste anything he doesn't want to. The tiny piece of broccoli I put on his plate this weekend that we made him keep there made him stick his nose up at everything else on his plate as well. He's very smart and unfortunatly good at manipulation for a six year old. His mom has made it very clear that she's going to give him exactly what he wants, so that works against us as well. We have been trying the positive reinforcement and we'll keep trying to put new food on his plate.

His dad wants me to explain what harm it's doing the child by giving him whatever he wants to eat.

I honestly am almost ready to refuse to make him anything to eat ever again because it's not worth the effort to try and please the unpleasable.

Lcompian, I appreciate the reply but, to be completely honest I believe this sort of permissive parenting style  enables the child to be selfish, self centered, self entitled, have lack of values and manipulative to get their own way... because they can. That's probably while I'm starting to feel bitter and resentful, the child has no respect or appreciation for all I do. I want a more authoritive approach. It's not consistant to occasionally fix him something different for dinner and not others.
> 60 days ago

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