Do you have a picky eater? Or a child who just won’t seem to eat what you’d like him to? Do you ever feel guilty, stressed, or fearful about your child’s eating and nutrition habits?
After talking about “Help for Picky Eaters (and the Moms Who Love Them),” on this week’s Motherhood radio show, with Jenny McGlothlin, MS, SLP, co-author of Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, I invited her to do a guest post to help us better understand, as mothers, fathers, and parents, what we can do to help our children eat healthier and help ourselves let go of the guilt.
Jenny has dozens of excellent tips and suggestions to help us help our children to eat in healthy, happy ways, and it all starts with us. So, check out Jenny’s article, below, and give yourself permission to “ditch the parenting guilt!”
or watch the video on my YouTube channel just as soon as it’s uploaded!
The Guilt Trap: The Side-Effects of Picky Eating
Guest Post by: Jenny McGlothlin, MS, SLP
Stress. Fear. Anxiety. Guilt.
Any of these sound familiar? If you are the parent of a picky eater, you probably experience some or all of these emotions each day. Meals keep on happening, and your child must be fed, so there is no rest for the weary. If your child has extreme picky eating, your life may feel like one big guilt- and worry-fest.
Why so much guilt?
For one thing, our society has become an incubator for comparison. From social media to online forums, parents are more than willing to judge and give advice based on their own experiences with their kids. But it doesn’t stop there. Family doctors, teachers, family members, and good friends all seem to have an opinion about what children should eat and what tricks will get them eat. It even begins before you have a baby- the decision to breast or bottle feed is a personal choice that somehow ends up being everyone’s business.
All of this guilt can be devastating to our self-concept as parents.
One scenario looks like this: a 9-month old infant has trouble transitioning to pureed foods, gagging on each bite, so her mom decides she needs to really make presenting the purees a priority so she can “get used to it”. She is worried about her daughter’s intake because her growth has been slow over the last two months. Mom pressures and begins forcing the spoon into her daughter’s mouth, and within a few days, the baby has begun refusing food altogether, and even starts fussing when presented with the bottle. When she asks the doctor about it, he advises to “get it in her however you can” because “she needs to gain weight or we will have to do something drastic”. The fear and worry have now been intensified and Mom feels like a failure, but hasn’t gotten any actual help.
Fear and worry feed feelings of guilt.
One of the biggest jobs we have as parents when our children are infants is to feed them- we literally have to keep them alive. What a huge responsibility! So when feeding doesn’t go well for a variety of reasons (many having everything to do with the unique traits the baby brings to the relationship), it is natural to blame ourselves. And others are more than ready to do it for us. Finding ways to channel those feelings into productive change is the key to becoming a competent and confident feeding partner for your child. (Tips for overcoming Fear: “Fear Does Not Prevent BAD, It Prevents Good here. Tips for overcoming Worry: Be Worry-Free with The Worry Tree'”)
Creating a supportive and peaceful environment where your child can learn the skills for eating for a lifetime (because isn’t eating a life skill?) can be done. Easing your anxiety (and guilt) about your child’s eating habits starts with understanding where they are coming from. Children are learning every day, and our job as parents is to provide opportunities to learn. Following the Division of Responsibility in feeding provides a framework within which parents can move from ‘getting’ their child to eat to ‘letting’ them learn at their own pace.
Seeing your child grow and learn to eat a variety of foods will ease those feelings of guilt and worry. But in the meantime, if things aren’t going as well as you’d like, consider approaching feeding differently. There is much advice out there about feeding your children, but often the advice is difficult to put into practice and can make you (and your child) feel even worse. Our STEPS+ approach strategically walks you through the journey, guiding you when you feel lost and empowering you to take control of the areas you can to support your child and let go of the guilt.
And when we feel like we are able to do something—and it actually helps—we can move forward and be the best parents we are able to be, guilt-free.
~Learn more about Jenny, her work, and her book, Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, on her website, extremepickyeating.com.
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