How To Help Your Child Through A Fussy Eating Phase
It's a basic instinct for parents to feed their young, so when your child suddenly starts refusing food, it can be a distressing and frustrating experience. However, this is an entirely normal stage of development which often occurs when the child is about 2 years old, and in the vast majority of cases it passes soon enough.
Nonetheless, there is a lot you can do as a parent to make this phase easier for all concerned by gently encouraging your toddler to adopt a more adventurous approach to eating.
A Few Mistakes To Avoid
While taking the positive steps above will, along with the passage of time, usually solve the problem, there are several common mistakes that tend to just make matters worse:
- Don't turn the situation into a battle of wills. Part of this developmental stage is about your child establishing an element of control and independence, and trying to block this outright will only escalate tensions.
- Don't be tempted to bribe or cajole your child if they're refusing to eat; just accept that it isn't going to happen that mealtime. It's unlikely to be a problem unless it develops into a consistent pattern of behavior, and turning it into a big deal increases the chances of exactly that happening. Whether the food refusal is through simple lack of appetite or something more rebellious, the chances are your little one will make amends at the next opportunity to eat.
- Never reward your child for refusing food by replacing the meal with a favorite alternative, unless the dish refused was a new one that was tried and genuinely disliked. Tempting as it is to ensure that something (anything) is eaten, once a child finds out that they have the power to summon their best-loved foods on a whim, they'll use the ability whenever they can.
- Don't insist on a clean plate before your child leaves the table. The fact that so many people can recall this happening in their formative years is testament to the deep, lasting effect it can have. If your toddler is already fussy with food, the effect is unlikely to be a positive one, turning mealtimes into a trial rather than a pleasant experience.
- Don't restrict the range of food you serve the rest of your family simply to fit in with your fussy child's preferences. Instead, try and include at least one item within the meal that you know will be acceptable, but not to the exclusion of rejected foods. It's good for your child to see others eating a wide variety of foodstuffs, and as their tastes will change over time, you don't want to close off the opportunity for retrying something previously refused.
If the situation doesn't improve after a month or two, and you're still worried, start keeping a diary of everything your child eats, and review it after a week. Hopefully, when seen in overview, it'll be clearer that the diet is healthier than you thought and includes sufficient variety, even if individual mealtimes are sometimes difficult. This diary will also be helpful to show to a doctor if you decide you need to seek professional help.
Remember that being fussy about food is a perfectly normal stage children go through while they develop their own tastes and settle into being their own person. If you pay attention to preferences but don't allow yourself to be ruled by them, in 99 percent of cases the situation will resolve itself as your little one gets older and more confident in their eating habits.