Is your child a fussy eater? They’re only copying you!
Santa Barbara: You may despair at your children’s fussy eating habits. But new research shows parents are to blame. Children formulate their views about food by watching adults and gauging how to react, according to psychologists at UC Santa Barbara.
To get children relishing broccoli, parents should lead by example from day one, the study says.
“Eating is a very social activity,” lead author Dr Zoe Liberman, assistant professor in brain sciences, said.
“It’s not only about what you’re eating, it’s about who you’re with and how the people you eat with might influence your food choices.” Though babies may seem happy to put anything in their mouths - whether it is food, mud, or dishwasher soap - the research shows infants are more socially intelligent than popular opinion has it. They will eat more when other people are eating with them. And they create happy memories about foods eaten with positive, fun people who create a fun experience. These small experiences build up to formulate an adult’s highly complex taste palette and approach to food in later life. Dr Liberman and her team landed on their conclusion after studying 32 children, aged just over one year old, as they watched a movie. The movie featured two actors who were eating different kinds of food and discussing their opinion of a bowl. They would be highly-expressive to demonstrate when they liked something or disliked something. The toddlers did not seem to care when the actors disagreed about the bowl. But when they disagreed about the food, the toddlers were confused and watched intently as the conversation played out. “A main finding from this research is that babies learning about food is fundamentally social,” Liberman explained. “When they see someone eat a food, they can use the person’s reaction to the food to learn about the food itself, such as whether it is edible, and also to learn about the people who are eating the food. In fact, the study shows they can even differentiate between people who speak different languages, and expect them to agree with other people in their group. For example, when a child sees an English-speaker shun Brussels sprouts, they will expect other English speakers to do the same. But they will not assume Spanish speakers agree. The findings should encourage public health officials to promote the importance of social interaction in kids’ nutrition, not just the nutritional value of food.
Though babies may seem happy to put anything in their mouths - whether it is food, mud, or dishwasher soap - the research shows infants are more socially intelligent than we think.