PICKY EATERS 101: DEALING WITH TANTRUMS FROM YOUR PRESCHOOLER
Guide to dealing with your three to five-year-old child
You went through the toddler phase of food tantrums, introduction to solids, graduating from the bottle to the sippy cup and to a real glass. Of course, with all the drama that came in tow. But now you have a whole new ball game to play and it can be overwhelming. We share some simple tips to help you understand the reasons behind why your preschooler is putting you through the wringer when it comes to eating
Let’s face it, little ones have a whole universe of unfamiliar flavours and textures to deal with as they grow older and parents begin wanting them to try new foods. Every little guy is already being bombarded with new things every day, both, with their own bodies as well as the way they relate to things around them. So imagine how overwhelming it can be when the most basic comfort of food is also not spared from changes. Here are some simple but crucial pointers to guide you when dealing with your three- to five-year-old child who is struggling with food issues:
1. New is not good:
As humans we have evolved to be suspicious of new foods for the sake of survival, and little kids are simply displaying age old human behaviour when they resist anything new. Don’t use this to label them as picky eaters, right away. Staying neutral is more helpful and they will learn to adapt and be more adventurous with gradual repeated exposure to the new food, over time.
2. Portions are key:
Wanting a child to try a new food is tricky enough; don’t make the mistake of scaring them with a large portion at the very first go. Begin small, ridiculously small if needed, like a single green bean, or a small slice of an orange. Make it so that even the child looks at it as a small goal to conquer. Follow it up with something they do like. Very gradually, increase the portion of the new food and slowly phase out the follow up food, until they start to enjoy and ask for more of the new food.
3. The rule of six:
Before giving up on a new food, give it at least six tries. Research says this is the magic number for a child to start accepting it. If meal times can get contentious, simply choose to do this during snack times.
4. Attention-seeking behaviour:
If not eating means a child will garner more attention from parents, he might start to use this as a means of seeking attention. Are you spending enough quality time with your kids? Do you check your cell phone or watch TV during meal times instead of focusing on them? Ban devices from the table and use meal times as an occasion to bond with your babies.
5. Avoid threats and bribes. Lead by example:
Even a preschooler is smart enough
to know when you’re easily manipulated and will resort to tears, tantrums or worse, aggression to get out of eating. Don’t be fooled but don’t resort to punishments and begging either, as these will set off a cycle of regular drama at meal times. Instead, simply model the behaviour you wish the child to copy. Enlist the help of older kids to openly display their love of the new food as this will tempt the younger one to imitate the behaviour. Even invite over friends with kids who you know love a food your own child hates. Sometime just watching a non-adult reach for a new food, makes it intriguing and less daunting for your young child.
6. Flavours, textures, colours:
Often, parents can get so focused on the healthy aspect of what they’re trying to feed their child that they forget kids have sensory needs too. Appeal to those by playing and experimenting with different flavours, textures and colours. A boring bowl of peas can be made more fun if your child has to push them through a fat straw; carrot sticks will turn intriguing if poked through salty black olives; noodles tinged green with spinach juice or dyed pink with beetroot juice can become alien worms! You don’t have to do this for every meal but at least try with the difficult items.
7. Full means fussy:
Any kid who has been snacking all day and sipping juice is not going to be hungry when it comes to meal time. This is why supervision of their food intake is necessary before jumping to conclusions about whether they are picky.
8. Record and remind:
It’s not only you, but also your child, who will benefit from a regular noting down of what new food they tried and how long before they began accepting it into their regular diet. Look back and remind your child how they came to fall in love with a certain fruit or veg they used to detest earlier, and use this to point out how fun it can be to try out new things. Looking at things from the child’s perspective can help ease the anxiety that parents unthinkingly subject themselves and their children to, especially when it comes to their diet. It’s been scientifically found that children tend to stop gaining weight between the ages of two and five. This means that their food requirements also take a hit. And when parents force kids to eat despite them not wanting to, it can set off a cycle of fussy eating that can travel well into the teenage and adult years. As long as your child is managing to fuel their energy intake in a relatively-balanced way, there’s no need to freak out and obsess about it. Yes, kids in this age bracket tend to display some erratic behavioural patterns when it comes to food choices, but that’s all part of growing up. They are learning to make decisions for themselves, and choosing what to eat and when to eat is a way of asserting this new-found need for autonomy. Interfering, or worse, trying to alter this process can cause the child to become even more resistant to what you are trying to achieve.