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Are Unreasonable Expectations Making Your Picky Eater Worse?

As a parent I often had high hopes for what my children would eat, but sometimes these expectations can inadvertently contribute to picky eating. Expecting immediate acceptance of new foods, demanding clean plates, and assuming children will like the same foods that we like, are common missteps I get told by parents on a frequent basis. In addition to this, rushing mealtimes and punishing food refusal can create a negative eating environments, while ignoring kids sensory processing needs can lead to an overwhelming mealtime experiences. If this sounds like your evening mealtime, I'm here to tell you that there are ways to fix it. By encouraging exploration and positive experiences with food, without the stress of forced eating, you can help your child develop the skills and confidence to be willing to enjoy a wider variety of foods over time. Read on to learn more.

How Unreasonable Expectations Can Affect Your Picky Eater:

The Impact of Immediate Acceptance Expectation

One of the most common expectations parents have is that their child will immediately accept new foods. This expectation overlooks the fact that children often need multiple exposures to a new food before they feel comfortable trying it. The solution is patience. Introduce new foods slowly and without pressure. It may take 10-15 exposures before a child decides to try something new, so celebrate small steps and remain consistent in offering a variety of foods.

Clean Plate Syndrome

Demanding that children finish everything on their plate can lead to unnecessary power struggles and negative associations with mealtimes. Instead, parents should focus on helping children listen to their hunger and fullness cues. Serve smaller portions and allow children to ask for more if they are still hungry. This approach can help children develop a healthy relationship with food and trust their bodies.

Assumed Similar Preferences

Assuming children will like the same foods as their parents or siblings can lead to frustration and disappointment. Every child has unique tastes and sensory preferences. So instead aim to offer a range of foods, including at least 1-2 foods you know your child likes. Incorporate these preferences into meals while gently introducing new items alongside favourites.

Rushing Mealtimes

Rushed mealtimes can create anxiety and pressure around eating, which can exacerbate picky eating behaviours. Allow plenty of time for meals so children can eat at their own pace. Create a calm and relaxed eating environment, free from distractions like screens or toys, to help children focus on their food and enjoy the experience.

Punishing Food Refusal

Using punishment or negative consequences when a child refuses food can create fear and resistance around eating. Instead, try to remain neutral and avoid making a big deal out of refusals. Encourage a positive atmosphere where trying new foods is fun and stress-free. Use praise and positive reinforcement for any small attempts or successes in trying new foods.

Ignoring Sensory Needs

Children with sensory processing issues might find certain textures, tastes, or smells overwhelming. It’s crucial to respect and accommodate these sensory preferences. Learn what their sensory preferences are (soft, crunchy, chewy, hard etc.) and work on building off these preferences with new food items, allowing your child to explore foods through play and without the pressure of eating. For example, let them touch, smell, and even play with food to become more comfortable with it.

How Can You Adjust Your Expectations?

To address these unreasonable expectations, parents can:

  1. Be Patient: Introduce new foods gradually and without pressure.

  2. Serve Appropriate Portions: Allow children to control how much they eat, helping them listen to their hunger and fullness cues.

  3. Respect Preferences: Recognize and honour individual tastes and sensory needs.

  4. Create a Calm Environment: Ensure mealtimes are relaxed and free from distractions.

  5. Use Positive Reinforcement: Encourage and praise children for trying new foods, no matter how small the step.

  6. Encourage Exploration: Allow children to interact with food in non-eating contexts to reduce anxiety and build familiarity.

By adjusting expectations and creating a supportive mealtime environment, parents can help their children develop a more positive relationship with food and gradually expand their diet.

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