HANDLING Fussy Eaters
ParentEdge|March - April 2021
Fussy eating is a part of normal childhood development — how we handle it will influence our children's future eating habits. Many mothers struggle with their children's eating habits. Some children are fussy eaters, while others are not as troublesome; so is fussy eating something to do with the child, or parents, or both? There is no one right answer, but there are things we can do so as to not fuel this problem further. Read on for some tips on dealing with your child's fussy eating.

In our culture, cooking for the child and hand-feeding pre-schoolers (and sometimes even children till the age of eight years or so) is seen as an act of demonstrating love. We go to any lengths to feed children — playing the same cartoons repeatedly, taking the child outside to show some interesting sights; basically doing anything that will distract the child from the conscious ‘task’ of eating.

Additionally, as Dr. Yamuna, a leading paediatrician and adolescent physician in Chennai points out, the fact that parenting is becoming increasingly child-centric has actually led us to focus on the child’s likes and dislikes when it comes to food, rather than on nutrition or healthy eating!

Dr. Mythili Rangan, a paediatrician practising in the United States with over three decades of experience, shares her point of view on what could possibly lead to more fussy eating habits in Indian children. “In India, the influence of grandparents on children’s eating habits is high. Grandparents are more likely to give in to unreasonable demands establishing poor feeding habits early on in life. Also, some Indian families snack a lot; offering the child snacks at unscheduled meal times and carrying snacks for the child even for short trips, kills appetite for the actual meal! In many Indian households the practice of cooking something for the child if she does not eat the regular meal is widely prevalent and this can perpetuate poor eating habits.”

What makes children fussy eaters?

Denying independence

Not allowing the child to eat independently when she starts showing some interest in doing so can sometimes lead to children not knowing ‘how much is enough’ for them.

Being labelled

Fussy eating, in most cases, is just a phase during toddlerhood. Labelling children or making statements about their eating habits in front of them (“my son takes so much time to eat; he does not eat any vegetable; he hates fruits”) re-emphasises the behaviour.

Over-anxiety

Some mothers can be unduly concerned if their child has not eaten one meal properly or perhaps during the course of the day, and give in to her demands too quickly.

Guilt and lack of time

Food (especially treats) is seen as an easy way to keep the child happy and assuage the guilt that parents who are unable to spend time with children feel.

Constantly forcing a child to eat

This could lead to complete aversion to mealtimes and the child may not even want to eat when hungry!

Junk food at home

The problem with stocking junk food at home is that the child knows she can get a snack if she does not eat properly at mealtimes.

No role model to emulate

Poor eating habits of family members, and irregular family meal times, give the child the impression that ‘eating like this is acceptable’.

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