The Picky Eater: Putting Yourself in Their Shoes

  July 22, 2018

Putting yourself in your picky eaters shoes can help you to practice empathy and compassion for what you child’s experience around food may be. Several years ago I worked with a family to address their child’s picky eating. As is common in many families of a picky eater, the child is often blamed for their unwillingness to expand their food acceptance. While there may be matters making it harder for them to have a good relationship with food (temperament, sensory issues, etc) there may also be issues around how they are fed too.

During this particular families process of working with me, Dad had a real revelation when he felt uncomfortable at the table himself. Dad explained while he was eating his own meal, his younger child kept trying to give him food. She was pushing it at him and getting upset when he wouldn’t eat it. When Dad came in for the next follow-up he said, “I finally get it, my daughter was trying to force me to try to eat something I didn’t want. I noticed I kept getting more agitated and refusing to eat it even more. I was finally able to put myself in my son’s shoes and understand what he felt like when we did that to him too.”

As a parent, when you are able to look at the situation from a different lens and have a deeper understanding of your children’s experience around eating, it can allow you to approach eating in a more empathic and compassionate way. I find it particularly helpful in the exploration of what is getting in the way of your child’s eating by reflecting on your own relationship and experiences with food.

Try asking yourself a few questions:

  1. Have you ever been tricked into eating something you didn’t want to try?
  2. Have you ever been forced to eat a food you didn’t like to the point of tears?
  3. Have you ever had a negative experience food that you still don’t eat?
  4. Do you eat a variety of food yourself? Do you limit what you buy and serve in the house due to restrictions of the diet?

Let me be clear, I am not blaming any parents for their child’s eating, however, acknowledging what role a parent played in the issues is really important in overall healing. When exploring a solution to your child’s picky eating, it’s important to acknowledge what role you may or may not have played in their picky eating. Sometimes it can be multifaceted – medical, developmental and feeding dynamic issues. As I always say, “You don’t know what you don’t know, but when you do know you can do better.”

Take a look at this video, it will give you an idea of how the Dad I worked with felt when someone was pushing food on him and how a child feels too.


Did you find anything particularly difficult to watch about this video?

What I do know, making meal time positive is the most important thing you can do. No one wants to be at a table with so much stress. We all know how a parent of a picky eating doesn’t like meal time either! When my clients hear we are going to start with trying to work on making meal time more positive, I often get these confused stares. One family in particular asked, “Okay, what does being more positive have to do with my child eating better?” 

As Ellyn Satter says, “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.”

Now take a take a look at this video, notice how much less stress there is at this family meal.

Everyone is able to enjoy their meal and do a good job! Would you love to have a family meal like this?

It’s important to understand what  and how much our children eat isn’t ours to control.

Trusting your child to do a good job with eating yields much better results. By following the trust model of feeding (AKA The Division of Responsibility of Feeding), you do your job by deciding what, when and where to serve the food. In return, you can trust your child to decide what and now much to eat from what is served. it can be some of the most challenging meals times for parents and the child.

When you make “getting” your child to eat your main agenda they know and their eating suffers.

When a child is not eating well parents and sometimes even medical professionals feel they have to try techniques in order to “get” the child to eat. These techniques often times cause there to be more stress at the table which can inversely effect both the parent and child’s relationship with food and meals. When this happens we notice struggles for control come into play and trust goes away which negatively effects their eating. Your child will resist as a way to seek power and autonomy over their own eating. However, when you focus on your job and can relax and trust them with the rest they too can focus on eating rather than the power struggle. Taking the power struggle away is a great first step!

If you are struggling with your child’s eating start with doing a little reflection; is there any way you may or may not be contributing to the picky eating.  Don’t come from a place of judgement, but rather a place of compassion for your child. If you can approach their eating from a more informed, trusting way, you will all enjoy meal time more.

Do you notice this pressure negatively impacts your child’s eating? Feel free to comment below!



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