Lessons from a stick of celery…
If I could hand out magic wands that parents could wave to instantly transform their child from fussy to unfussy eater, I would – and probably be exceedingly rich from it!
But the Getting the Little Blighters to Eat approach is about as close to a magic wand as you’re going to get. It just takes a bit longer (though plenty of parents do report a change from the very first meal!).
“But I just don’t think I’ve got the patience to wait the three or four months for it to work,” said one parent recently.
My response is:
“Have you got the patience to encourage, pester, nag or bribe your child to eat what you want them to eat every single day – possibly for years?!”
The Getting the Little Blighters to Eat approach makes every single meal less painful and painstaking. It requires less, not more effort from you. You simply ‘Dish up, Shut up!’ and let the approach slowly but surely take effect.
To help you stay motivated through the process and not fall back into old habits at mealtimes, my advice is to focus fully on any positive changes you notice in your child’s eating – however tiny! Even to note them down in a diary every day so that you have a more tangible record of the progress you are making.
Here’s a brilliant ‘real life’ example from a family I am currently working with. For clarity’s sake, I am going to focus on the child’s gradual change in attitude towards just one vegetable: a stick of celery!
Starting point: The only vegetable this almost three-year-old child will eat is the odd bit of cucumber.
Week 1: Mother completely stops putting any pressure on child to eat any of the foods on her plate from now on.
Week 2: She presents child with a stick of celery in a ramekin to the side of her lunch (celery is going to make a regular appearance from now on, about once a week). Child looks at the celery and says, “Take it away mummy, take it away!” and gets upset. Mother says, “It’s okay, you don’t have to eat it.” Child calms down and allows it to be there.
Week 3: Child looks at the stick of celery and says “What’s that?” Mother replies simply “It’s celery”. Child doesn’t comment.
Week 4: Child picks up the stick of celery and puts it in her mouth and says, “Look mummy, look. I’m playing the trumpet! You do it too!” Mother does it too with her own celery.
Week 5: Child picks up the stick of celery and takes a bite and completely finishes that bite (it takes a while – celery is quite hard work! – but the child persists happily). Child then takes a second bite of their own accord, but decides to spit this bit out. Mother makes no comment of course.
Week 6: ??? We shall see…but it’s looking good, right?!
You can so clearly see the process and progress in action here:
1. Rejection and assertion of power (“Take it away, mummy!”)
2. Acceptance (The child allows the food to ‘be there’ because they know there is no pressure to actually eat it).
3. Curiosity (“What is it?”. The child’s natural curiosity about food can emerge now that there is no pressure to eat anything.)
4. Touching and playing with the food (“I’m playing the trumpet!”. The child is becoming familiar and comfortable with the food.)
5. Eating the food (of their own accord, because they want to. Even spitting out the second bite is progress – they chose to take that second bite, remember!)
Now imagine this progress with a wide variety of foods all going on at the same time, and bingo! You’re well on the way to undoing fussy eating!