From time to time, it's nice to feature a different 'voice' on this blog so we're very pleased to welcome Jo Cormack, who's an expert in children's eating behavior. This is her guest post.
Feelings, Food and Fussy Eaters
By Jo Cormack
I am a counsellor and feeding consultant specialising in helping children develop a positive relationship with food. Most of my work centres around solving picky eating. I believe that in order to turn fussy eaters into little foodies, a three-pronged approach is the best way forward (pardon the fork analogy).
Children need to engage with where food comes from and what to do with it (something Junior Chefs' Academy are doing amazing work around). Parents need to have a sounds grasp of basic nutrition and cooking skills AND everyone who ever has anything to do with feeding children needs to have an understanding of how feelings come into the equation. This is where I come in. I help parents learn how to feed their child, not what. In this guest post I want to talk about mealtime emotions and why they are important.
So why do feelings matter?
Well, at the table there are three sets of emotions, constantly interacting with one another. The parents’ feelings, the child’s feelings and the general emotional atmosphere at the table.
The parents' feelings
Wanting to feed your child ‘properly’ is a fundamental part of being human. It’s how we ensure the survival of the human race. From the very beginning, we nurture our children, give them milk, keep them clean, watch them grow. This urge to nurture doesn’t end with weaning. As parents we are really emotionally invested in our children’s eating and when this isn’t going as we’d hoped, it can feel extremely challenging.
Parents I have worked with describe being frustrated, especially when they have spent time preparing a meal that ends up in the bin. They feel anxious – worried that their child is not getting the nutrients she needs. Many have talked about guilt, as though when your child is fussy, you have somehow failed as a parent. Some parents describe feeling angry. They see good eating as a behaviour they expect from their child and experience picky eating as defiance. All of these feelings are normal and understandable, but they make picky eating worse.
The child’s feelings
Children are amazingly skilled at picking up on feelings. If you have ever spent time with a toddler, you will know that if you respond to a tantrum with anger and heightened emotion, the toddler ups the volume in turn. Equally, if you respond calmly and with minimal emotion, you take (some of) the wind out of the angry little person’s sails. This is because toddlers reflect and amplify the feelings around them.
The atmosphere at the table
When it comes to mealtimes, research shows that the more intense emotion and conflict at the table there is, the worse picky eating will be. If you are the parent of a fussy eater, you can really improve the situation by working at achieving calm, positive mealtimes. I’d like to share three tips that will help you make this a reality:
- Get your child’s weight and growth checked by a health professional. This is the only way to genuinely alleviate anxiety about your child’s eating – once you know she is not underweight, you can be much more relaxed about whether or not she eats her food.
- Reflect on your own relationship with food – we all come to parenting with a little baggage and your own upbringing in relation to food has a profound bearing on how you react to your child’s eating. It’s so useful to process this, either by talking to a partner or close friend or perhaps having some sessions with a counsellor if you feel you may need professional input.
- Focus on the social side of meals instead of on what your child is eating. Learning to re-frame mealtimes as a chance to spend time with your family and appreciate your children’s company rather than a ‘get food down child’ session can make so much difference. Even if your child is only a toddler, it’s never too soon to use meals as an opportunity to practise valuable social skills like listening and turn-taking, especially if you make it fun!
Finally, remember that it is normal for children to go through a picky phase. As long as you show them that food and eating are pleasurable, social activities and they see you enjoying a varied and healthy diet, the chances are this is what they too will grow up to enjoy.
Thanks very much for that Jo.
If you'd like to know more about Jo and her work, please use the links below. (All links open in a new window.)
- Jo's Emotionally Aware feeding blog.
- Jo's book, 'War and Peas' - available on Amazon.
- Jo's Facebook page.
Please note that Jo also recently invited us to submit a guest post on her own blog. You can read this here.