The World’s Simplest Solution to Picky Eating: Freedom Within Limits

Jun 26, 2012 by

THE EASY WAY is sometimes the best.

The other day a man was telling me how one of his kids had been a picky eater.

As I always do, I asked him what he did about it.

“We’d sit there with him and tell him he had to eat certain amounts of the various things on the table. We’d sit there and insist until he did it,” he told me.

A typical strategy, I thought. And a counter-productive one.

Then he added, with a note of curiosity: “We noticed, though, that if we actually left the room for awhile he would eat.”

I wasn’t surprised by those results. Just another proof of the Push-Pull Principle.

Nobody likes to be pressured and forced to eat something they don’t want to eat. Pressure can take many forms, from offering rewards or threatening punishments or taking something away, or hovering and even praising.  The more we pressure and manipulate, the more children tend to resist. The more we back off and let them focus on their own hunger, the more likely they will be to eat. Pressuring a child will only make the problem worse, especially if your child has medical issues or sensory processing problems.

Children need the right limits (regular meal times, no random snacking, only good choices of food, no bad behavior and rudeness at the table, limited time allowed to eat, eating allowed only at the table), but then they need freedom within those limits to eat or not and to take charge of their own eating.  Allowing them to eat works better than trying to make them eat. The results? Most likely, better eating.