“Sit there until you finish your peas.” “If you don’t have room for salad, you don’t have room for dessert.” “Just take three more bites.” “If you don’t eat what’s on your plate, you won’t get anything for the rest of the night.”
Parents say and do all sorts of things to get their kids to eat. Some threaten, others bargain, and some make their child sit at the dinner table even after the rest of the family has left. As most parents find out, coercion doesn’t cure a picky eater. Parents need only think back to their own childhoods. You were probably forced to try a food that was unappetizing or to finish eating when you were already full.
Picky eating is usually the result of stress and arguments about the quantity and variety of food. If your child has no control over what, when, and how much she eats, she’ll feel powerless and frustrated, as any adult in the same situation would. Your child may angrily demand certain foods or react passively by picking at what’s on her plate and taking tiny bites. In either case, she’s not consciously trying to manipulate you, but rather acting out her sense of helplessness.
Picky eaters may avoid tastes and textures they find unappealing. They may also refuse to try new foods, perhaps they’ve been pressured too often to taste something different. A child who has faced frequent arguments about trying or finishing new foods finds it safer to stick to the few dishes she likes.
You may inadvertently create a picky eater if you pressure your child to eat large quantities of food or finish what’s on her plate. A child with a small appetite can’t help but feel upset if she’s urged to eat more, and more often, than she wants.
When you coerce your child into eating, the results are usually negative. First, meals become unpleasant times of arguments and power struggles. Also, your child may resort to sneakiness, either stealing the foods she wants (usually sweets) or secretly disposing of foods she won’t eat. Some children hide their unwanted food in their napkin and then throw the napkin away. One child managed to slide her peas behind the refrigerator. Another put bits of food on her brother’s plate when he wasn’t looking. And there are always children who feed their food to the family pet.