Wednesday, April 21, 2010

picky kids and temperament

This is a great quote from Dawn Friedman at This Woman's Work who talks about the very different temperaments of her two children and how it effects how she home-schools. "The surest way to ruin anything for him was to try to lead him — he is a kid who wants to find his own way and will let us know if he needs our help. Even casually offering help might be enough to make him shut down. "
While she is talking about learning styles, she may as well have been talking about learning to like new foods, or how picky a child is. I wonder if this trait translates into eating as well...

You see, some children are VERY sensitive to any pressure to try or like new foods.
What doesn't work:

1) "No thank you," or "one bight rule."
2) rationalizing, or explaining, "You liked this last time, I know you'll like it. You like broccoli, this tastes just like that!"
3) Over-selling something, "This is SOOO good, don't you think so Dad? This is the BEST casserole I've ever made, look at the delicious peppers, they're your favorite color!" Yum!
4) praising or rewarding for trying new foods

The initiative needs to come from the child. Put the food on the table, you enjoy it, have a pleasant time, talk about anything but the food and let the child come to the food on his or her own terms. (This can take time depending on the child's temperament, how much they were pressured and for how long...)

How does your child's temperament play into your feeding and eating challenges?


  1. My son is really stubborn, and if pushed, he won't eat something, even if he likes it. We have to wait for him to want to try it on his own.

    He's about to turn six, and is just now getting to the point where he'll try new foods on a regular basis. I've had a lot of parents I know criticize me for allowing him to eat separate meals--if my son wouldn't eat anything on the table, I'd give him something fast and easy to make that he would eat--but I don't think it's done him any harm in the long run. He'll now eat what's in front of him most nights, and he will even look over the menu and try something new when we go out to eat.

    I definitely think temperament plays a huge role in so much. I think we got into a lot of needless power struggles over things like sleep and eating for a while because we didn't really adapt our parenting to our son's personality. Now we try to respect his stubborn nature and work with it, and things go easier.

    It's been pretty amazing having a second child and seeing how, even now at just six weeks, she has such a different temperament. She's much more easygoing. We could never, ever get our son to take a bottle. Even when I was back teaching and he'd be home with my husband for 4 hours at a time and we knew he was very hungry, he'd just scream and scream and wait for me to get home so he could nurse, rather than take the bottle. Our daughter started sucking away at the bottle the first time we tried one, and now she'll drink it even if it comes straight out of the fridge. She seems to be more flexible than my son ever was.

  2. Lori, Thanks for your insights! I'm glad it's working out for you, and that your second might give you an easier time with some things! It amazes me how different children in the same home can be! Something to be aware of with all parenting topics, like sleep etc like you mentioned. In terms of cooking different foods, it sounds like it worked for you, though for many kids this can slow down the process of liking new foods.
    Happy feeding and congratulations on the birth of your daughter!

  3. I was so glad you posted a comment because it was totally the lightbulb I needed to thinking about his picky eating. He's also kind of sensory-averse to foods (I was, too, as a kid so I get that and his dad was, too) but I wish I'd read your comment way back when he was four because it would have saved a lot of agony for us!!!!!! (and for him!!!!)

  4. My son is so different from my daughter in terms of what they like. My son is only 1-year old and he is already refusing food -- he's not much into fruit. My daughter ate most anything until about 18 months. Now she's a normal, picky 3-year old. Because we never pushed her with eating, she does not take well to any food encouragement. She really likes to try food on her own and is very proud when she tries something new. I'm not sure what my son will be like at age 3 but I'm sure it will be very different from my daughter.

  5. I'm not sure I understand the "No thank you" part of number 1. After finding your blog we started letting the kids say "Yes, please" or "No, thank you" to any food we offered (as opposed to forcing them to eat what we wanted them to eat as we were doing before) and we have had MUCH more pleasant meals since then! So what would you suggest instead of "No, thank you" for less pressure... that they pass the food and can put some on their plate or not, as they please, with no comment, or that we put food on their plates and they can eat it or not? Thanks for the clarification! Our kids are 3 and 5 and can usually serve themselves.

  6. Thanks for finding that Laurie. it is a little confusing! Many families pressure kids to eat one bite and refer to it as a "one bite" or a "no thank you bite" meaning the kid HAS to try one before being allowed to say "no thank you."
    So no need to change what you are doing. I am so glad to hear that meals are more pleasant! Keep up the good work, and thanks again for catching that confusing point!

  7. Thank you so much for the response! I am much more relaxed, and my kids are enjoying eating again!