Aside from the time and stress spent sourcing ingredients, cooking a nutritious meal and getting it to the table (or choosing a family friendly restaurant to satisfy everyone’s needs), fussy eating brings with it increased anxiety and frustration for parents. Mealtimes – which should be a pleasurable, enjoyable and convivial experience can often turn into a battle ground… in which there are no winners!

If this sounds familiar rest assured you are not alone; lots of parents experience fussy eating with their children. Understanding the dynamics of our relationship with food, eating and mealtimes is a complex one, challenging us as parents to revisit our thinking. On the undesirable end of the spectrum is an eating relationship saturated with power battles and aggression, the more positive and opposite end is a relationship connected to pleasure and happier memories of eating together.

Eating is an emotional experience, that’s a given, but it’s also an essential activity for survival, stemming from the primal need to care for, respect and sustain our bodies. From birth, our first relationship is the feeding one and, unsurprisingly, positive eating patterns are learned and develop instantly. We were all children once; we all learned how to relate to food (which continues to evolve throughout our entire lives) as you are now doing with your children.

Fussy eaters pique parents’ anxieties but often we can be unaware of the further impact these anxieties have on our childrens’ developing relationship with food. For example, if we take a black and white approach and divide food into good or bad, we’re creating a charge in our children and often set up an unhealthy emotional dynamic. You instil in your children that sweet things are bad – which is so often the case – meaning that now you could be experienced as withholding sugary foods from children whilst what they experience is deprivation, made even worse when sweet ‘treats’ then become a bribe for good behaviour.

Containing our own anxieties and removing the emotional charge from food, frees up children to explore tastes and experiences in the food relationship.  Fundamentally, children must achieve mastery of their own bodies by learning how to relate to food in healthy ways.

Parental Pathways is all about enhancing the relationship between parent and child, increasing the pleasurable aspects of parenting in today’s world. If you have concerns about fussy eaters or your own anxieties around this issue, we’re here to help, drop us a line at info@parentalpathways.ie

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