20 Mar Guest Blog: Picky eating – how to move forward when you’re stuck – Jo Cormack
This guest blog has been provided by War & Peas author, Jo Cormack.
When I speak to parents of picky eaters, for an initial consultation, I pick up an almost universal sense of ‘stuckness’. This is partly because it’s usually when parents feel that they have run out of ideas, that they reach out to professionals like me. As Bob Dylan said, ‘the darkest hour comes right before the dawn’ and when it comes to parenting (like other aspects of life) sometimes it’s only when things get really tough, that we take stock and decide to get some help.
So how do you make a change, when your child’s fussy eating has got really bad? I have two key tips for you:
1) Get your child’s weight and growth checked by a health professional.
2) Focus on making mealtimes relaxed and positive
Weight and growth checks
These are essential because if there is a problem with your child’s weight or growth, this may indicate a need for further medical assessment. It doesn’t matter if they are slim by nature, what is important is how they follow the curves in the growth charts used by health professionals. In the UK, these are the charts in your child’s red book.
Another reason I recommend weight and growth checks is that many parents have a lingering worry that their child may be underweight or is not growing properly – actually getting this checked out can reduce parental anxiety dramatically. Most parents of picky eaters will find that there are no issues and will feel so much better. Of course, your child’s nutritional status may not be ideal (and it’s a great idea to get this checked out too) but knowing that their weight and growth are find can be a huge relief.
Making mealtimes relaxed and positive
This is easier said than done! There are many reasons why meals become stressful, here are a few that you may recognise:
- Parents’ emotions in response to their child’s eating (this can include anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness – you name it, parents feel it!)
- Children’s anxiety about mealtimes (children can quickly learn to dread mealtimes, and to anticipate a battle. The challenge is to turn this around)
- Too much focus on what and how the child is eating (when meals are all about what’s gone into your child’s mouth – or not – this is inescapably stressful)
The way forward
Stop working on getting your child to eat a broader diet until meals are relaxed and positive. To get to this stage, I recommend using Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility model, which explains what is your responsibility in relation to food and feeding, and what is your child’s responsibility. You can read about it on her website [ http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/] and in this blog post I wrote all about how to make Satter’s approach work for you. Look out for your free downloadable resource guide. Click here.
When meals are laid back and upbeat, then and only then, can you begin to help your child to broaden their eating repertoire. Abraham Maslow, an influential American psychologist working in the 1940s and beyond, came up with a theory which he called his ‘hierarchy of needs’. This is all about how we need to meet our most basic needs (like our need for water, food and shelter) before we can address higher order needs like our need for love or self-respect. I like to think of Maslow’s ideas when working with families. If mealtimes are fraught with stress, power-struggles and high levels of emotion, this needs fixing before we can begin to help children eat more foods.
More about Jo:
Jo Cormack is a child-feeding expert based in the UK. She specialises in helping parents and professionals understand how to prevent and solve picky eating. Jo is a registered counsellor, and her professional background enables her to help parents understand the emotional and psychological aspects of picky eating, making stressful mealtimes a thing of the past.
Read more about Jo’s work and visit her blog at: http://www.emotionallyawarefeeding.com
I am also pleased to tell you that Jo is launching an online course for parents with anxious eaters very soon. Jo looks at the behavioural, emotional and psychological side of picky eaters which perfectly compliments my nutrition course. As soon as both courses are ready you will be the first to know.