How does your parenting style affect your child’s eating?
Psychologists have known for a very, very long time that the optimum parenting style is authoritative parenting, where there is a combination of: Clear, consistent boundaries AND warmth, affection and empathy.
If the boundaries are there but not the kindness (Authoritarian parenting), the child won’t feel loved, valued or ‘heard’. If the kindness is there but not the boundaries (Permissive parenting), the child will feel insecure and out-of-sorts and is likely to act up and thrash against you until some kind of ‘limit’ is reached – even if that’s you losing your temper and finally putting your foot down!
So what’s all this got to do with fussy eating?!
Well, if we are going to conquer (or even better, prevent!) fussy eating, we need to apply this principle to how we feed our child. There needs to be a clear and consistent boundary about how food and mealtimes work – but without being harsh or unkind about it. However, because we so desperately want our child to eat well, it’s all too easy to go down the permissive route and try to be our child’s friend around food. This might include:
The problem with this is that your child will push harder and harder, until they are demanding their favourite foods and meals over and over again and refusing to eat anything else. Their palate will get narrower and narrower. So instead, it is crucial that you set this clear boundary:
You (the parent) are in charge of what food is served.
You might think that your child enjoys you behaving like an eager-to-please chef, but you’ll be surprised how quickly your child will accept (and actually prefer it) when this boundary is in place. And this way, you’ll be able to gradually expose them to a wider and wider variety of food – which is vital in conquering fussy eating.
At the same time, you don’t need to be all authoritarian about it. You should never insist that your child eats – or even tries – the food you’ve put in front of them, or say things like: It’s that or nothing. Neither should you threaten them with no pudding, sweets or anything else if they don’t eat the first course. Because the second and equally important part of the deal is:
They (the child) are in charge of whether to eat it or not – and how much.
Simply present them with their food and leave it up to them. If they say they don’t like it or don’t want it or push it away, just say calmly and kindly: That’s okay. It’s up to you if you eat it. And if they eat none or very little of it, there’s no need to let them go hungry either. You can offer a bedtime snack or adjust their daytime snacks to see them through – just so long as you do it in a boundaried way that doesn’t encourage fussiness.
So, just as with every other area of parenting, the way forward with fussy eating is to be authorative. Top left square of the Parenting Style quadrant is where it’s at!
For oodles of practical parenting tips, techniques and tactics that research shows really do work, see my latest book Getting the Little Blighters to Behave.