When Picky Eating Leads to Abnormal Parenting

Apr 24, 2013 by

Marlena’s picky eater, six-year-old Walker, was overweight. He wanted to eat bean-and-cheese tacos and little else every day. His eating was abnormal. So Marlena reacted, desperately.  She did all she knew to do.

One night, the whole rest of the family found themselves doing the chicken dance after every bite he ate, to get him to eat. True story.

Another night, he allowed Mom to spoon chicken and rice into his mouth while he played video games.  She would feed him a “second dinner” before bedtime if he refused dinner, so that he wouldn’t wake up in the night, screaming from hunger.

Any given  night at the dinner table found both parents badgering Walker non-stop to eat more of this, more of that, with threats of punishment and promises of reward.

Following  a Picky Eater Down the Wrong Path

If you have abnormal eating going on in your house, your automatic response may be to behave abnormally as a parent. Parents may find themselves following a child’s abnormal eating, allowing the atmosphere in their home to become abnormal in response.

The typical response to picky eaters is to increase the pressure on children to eat against their wills, otherwise known as “force feeding.” Urging, bribes (“rewards” sounds a little better), counting bites, making a child stay at the table until a certain amount is downed, and other general unpleasantness and contrived behavior tends to come about. None of these actions are normal or healthy. But such reactions may seem necessary to keep your child alive.

Counterproductive Abnormality

But these reactions don’t actually help, do they? They don’t solve the problem. Even if you get your child to eat something, next time, you have to work even harder at it. It’s like the icy North Wind in Aesop’s fable, trying to rip off the traveler’s coat through brute force. The more you push, the greater the child’s resistance. A little warmth from the sun gets the traveler to take off his own coat in no time. The difference? understanding of human nature.

If you’re doing something abnormal, it’s probably the wrong thing to do. Maintaining normality yourself is essential to regaining normality in your child’s eating.

Holding the Course

Families without picky eaters have generally refrained from too much abnormality of the picky eater kind, though nobody is perfect. It’s not that they “don’t need to” do these things because their children aren’t picky. Maybe their children aren’t picky because they maintained normality regardless of their children’s experiments in abnormality.

Every child in every family will turn down some food at some point.  In many cases, though, families who keep on behaving normally in the face of food refusal don’t continue to have picky eaters. Does anybody ever need to do abnormal things? Is abnormality ever helpful? It’s a choice parents can make. Even if your child has a problem requiring medical attention and/or therapy, continuing to be a normal parent and providing a normal home life can alleviate the problem rather than aggravate it.

When Marlena reversed her responses to more normal family patterns, the picky eating started to disappear. She tightened up the eating schedule and kept her children from snacking between meals or scheduled snack times. She served meals in serving dishes and let her children decide what went on their own plates and how much they ate. She refrained from pestering Walker to eat more.

Six Abnormal Parenting  Responses to Picky Eating that Aggravate the Problem:

  • Forcing or urging children to eat against their wills
  • Allowing children to complain and criticize food (which is a normal reaction to being pressured to eat)
  • Allowing children to eat foods that interfere with their appetites for meals (desserts, junk food, too much milk or juice)
  • Allowing children to eat at the wrong times
  • Rewards and punishments for eating
  • Restricting what you serve to the few foods that the picky eater wants