Praising Your Picky Eater
And Why It May Be Doing More Harm Than Good
If you have a picky eater at home, you’ve likely tried everything under the sun to get them to eat their dinner. Or maybe you’re trying to prevent your child from ever becoming a picky eater! We can’t control everything our kids do and we likely aren’t the cause of picky eating habits.
However, picky opportunities pop up and you may feel like you need to come to the rescue. By doing so, you might actually be making things much worse.
You may resort to pleading with them to just try one bite. You might guilt them by telling them how hard you worked to provide them that meal. Maybe you’re bribing them with their favorite show or dessert if they sample their broccoli. Or perhaps you’re threatening them with loss of privileges for a plate unfinished.
Actions like begging, guilting, bribing, and threatening are all pressure techniques. They will often work in the short term, but research shows that using these techniques actually makes picky eating habits worse and last longer. I get it, mama. You’re exhausted and frustrated, your relationship is suffering, and you dread going to the table. What started as a harmless tactic has now hijacked your dinner table.
If you feel like pressure techniques are the only thing that works on your child, but you’re looking for something fresh, something new, I invite you to join my Table Talk course. You will become your child’s eating expert, armed with tactics to help guide them through their picky eating phase once and for all.
Praise As Pressure
As parents, we know the importance of praising our children. They need it, deserve it, and thrive on it! As children, their hearts shine when they think they’ve made us proud. It’s a beautiful relationship that serves both parents and children.
While praise is a valuable tool for parents, it can also be a pressure technique at the table. When our picky eater takes a bite of new food and we praise them for it, we are attaching pride to the action of eating that food. And while we got the action we were hoping for (i.e. trying a bite of broccoli), there may be something deeper happening under the surface.
Underneath that surface action, they’re connecting your pride to the action of eating a portion of food they may not be comfortable with. It is at that point that it has become a pressure for them. Children crave their parents’ affirmation and love and pride and praise. So they will continue to eat that food, just waiting for the dopamine hit that will come from your verbal affirmation.
Eventually, though, we will get used to them eating their broccoli every night and stop praising them. Here we will start to see pushback from them and they’ll revert back to not eating broccoli or find a new food to refuse, in the hopes that trying it will once again bring on your praise.
As parents, we don’t want our love to be tied to the actions of our children. Our love is unconditional! Of course, we know we don’t love them more when they eat broccoli than when they don’t, but that may not be what they’re experiencing.
When To Use Praise
While I don’t recommend praise for eating certain foods, there are actions at the table that deserve it! You might praise them for sitting nicely at the table and for the entire meal time, using their utensils, or allowing a new food to be on their plate. These actions aren’t tied to food and do not hold the same pressure power.
Praise may be the sneakiest contributing factor to picky eating, as it seems harmless. Don’t worry if you’ve been praising your picky eater for trying new foods! I promise you haven’t ruined them. Just by reading this or listening to my podcast episode, you’re making progress and taking one step at a time in the right direction.