Is it normal that my toddler is a fussy eater?

Article by Danielle Kasis Akal, Professional Dietetic Stagiare, McGill’s School of Human Nutrition. 

Fussy eating is a very normal childhood phase. There are all sorts of reasons why children of any age might decide they won't eat what you just offered. Although sometimes the reason behind fussy eating can be complex, most often than not, the reasons behind food fussiness are typical and not something to seriously worry about.

 

Why is my child a fussy eater?

You might have noticed that your child was selective in eating since weaning, or it might be that your child enthusiastically ate new food after weaning and only had developed eating problems between their first and second birthdays.

The main reason for that could be neophobia or the fear of new food. Neophobia is an evolutionary technique where babies develop a suspicion for strange food allowing their ancestors to stay away from anything poisonous. What's good about that is neophobic tendencies tend to phase out with time.

Toddlers also start to develop memories and know well that each meal is not their last. So, they quickly learn that better snacks might be around the corner and that they might be offered something nicer than what's on their plate right now. If the better snack is not at home with you, it is probably at their grandmother's house or in preschool with their toddler friends.

Through the process of refusing food, your child might also be exerting his own sense of self by making his own decision. When children are old enough to understand the joys of independence, they are so keen to put it into practice and exercise what little power they have over the adults around them.

 

Is my child trying to tell me something?

Occasionally, a child's refusal to eat may indicate an emotional problem. You might need to figure out if anything else is troubling them. For example, a gradual or even sudden decrease in appetite might indicate something is bothering your child. Usually, it might be related to a new life event like a new baby, new home or new school.

Some medical factors can also play a role in a low appetite or selective eating tendencies. For instance, zinc deficiency, food allergy or intolerance, constipation, nausea, anemia, or toxic metals accumulation might need to be ruled out by a health professional before making assumptions that your child is a fussy eater. To help with that, you can consult a qualified nutritionist to run the appropriate tests and make proper changes to your little one's diet.

When dealing with a fussy eater, remember those words: Exposure, Model and Avoid rewarding.

 

Exposure:

Given the impact of familiarity on children's eating patterns, regularly exposing your little one to a wide variety of meals and flavours is likely to result in healthier eating habits. Your child’s experience with different tastes can improve acceptance from an early age (even before birth!), according to a growing number of researches. In fact, exposure is specifically helpful in increasing your toddler's vegetable consumption.

 

Model:

According to a recent poll, the strongest predictor of children's intake of fruits and vegetables depended on their parents' consumption of those food groups. One might think that meals accessible in the house, in general, is likely the contributing factor to this. However, we tend to forget children's desire to copy the behaviour of others. Seeing what you are eating may change your toddler's preference for that food. If not, it can also increase your baby's chance to consume that food, which increases liking through taste exposure.

 

Avoid rewarding:

You may have tried bribing with reward foods, and you might have noticed that it often achieves the very opposite of what you intended it to do. You are right; rewarding does not work! It has been consistently shown that reward increases food fussiness, making your little one more resistant to try new food. Next time try to keep meals relaxed and reward-free as it will go a long way to help your child develop a more positive relationship with food.

Will it always be that way? 

The good news is that most children will grow out of fussy eating at some point before reaching adulthood. You will notice once your children start school, they will have a more varied diet. Their diet change will be influenced by what their peers are eating and their ability to make their own choices about food. So, a fussy eater toddler won't automatically become a picky eater adult, especially if they received the proper response from people bringing them up.

 

References:

Dovey, T. M., Staples, P. A., Gibson, E. L., & Halford, J. C. (2008). Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’eating in children: a review. Appetite, 50(2-3), 181-193.

Levene, I. R., & Williams, A. (2018). Fifteen-minute consultation: The healthy child:“My child is a fussy eater!”. Archives of Disease in Childhood-Education and Practice, 103(2), 71-78.

Mallan, K. M., Jansen, E., Harris, H., Llewellyn, C., Fildes, A., & Daniels, L. A. (2018). Feeding a fussy eater: examining longitudinal bidirectional relationships between child fussy eating and maternal feeding practices. Journal of pediatric psychology, 43(10), 1138-1146.

Taylor, C. M., & Emmett, P. M. (2019). Picky eating in children: Causes and consequences. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(2), 161-169.

Westrom, S., & Hilliard, E. (2021). Picky Eating as a Degree instead of Binary Choice. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 121(9), A59.


Get in their heads - Help your kids reframe the thoughts that hold them back

 

Article by Jill Shein, Psychologist at Openspaceclinic. 

As parents, we know that belief in self is one of the most important qualities to nurture in our children. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try to build them up, our kids may have a different talk track in their own minds…

 

 The problem

 A child can bring themselves down when they tell themselves things like, 

 “I’m not smart enough”… “I’m not pretty enough”… or, “I’m just not good enough”

 And they might not always tell you exactly what they’re thinking. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t want to worry you. Other times, it may be because they feel embarrassed or ashamed by how they’re feeling about themselves. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t help.

 The silver lining of this pandemic is that we are probably more attuned to kids now than we’ve ever been, having spent more time together of late out of necessity. It’s an instinct to notice a change in your child’s mood or personality, or changes in their behavior.

 For instance, maybe you’ve noticed your child is coming home from school more tense, gloomy, or more sensitive about little things that they normally wouldn’t react to. You might have a super-studious kid who suddenly rejects their homework. Your younger child may simply withdraw, or stop engaging in activities they usually find enjoyable.

 

How you can help

 

1. Inquire

The first thing you can do is simply notice and ask them what’s up.

“Hey sweetheart, I’ve noticed you seem a little down lately… what’s on your mind?”

“We all hear our own voice inside our head- what’s yours telling you lately?”  

 

2. Validate

Explain to your child that having feelings of doubt from time to time is a normal part of growing up. This is a really important step that many of us forget to take. We may rush into solution mode because we want to make them feel better, and immediately try to talk them out of that negative thought. This can be counterproductive. Instead, slow down… be sure to acknowledge where they’re at first. Reflect the essence of what you hear them saying.

 “We all have moments when we feel less-than sometimes…”

“Sounds like it feels pretty awful when you tell yourself that you don’t measure up…”

 

3. Change the frame:

Now that they’ve articulated the problem, and they feel heard and understood, you have an opening to help them shift their perspective. Ask your child how they’d like to feel, and get them to focus on the things they like about themselves- their unique qualities, skills and talents. Every child has at least a few positive traits or capabilities that they genuinely believe about themselves.

 “How do you want to feel about yourself?”

 “Let’s try something… can you write down three things you’re most proud of when you think about yourself?”

 Or, if they’re struggling to come up with an answer,

 “Let’s pretend one of your closest friends had to make a speech about you on your birthday. What nice things would they say about you?”  

 This exercise will help boost their confidence, especially if you ask them to re-read the list daily. They will learn to focus on what they do well, rather than on their shortcomings.

 “So maybe I’m not the best basketball player… but I’m a really fast runner!”

“I might not get the best grades in math, but I’m a terrific reader and storyteller”.

“I am a really great friend and people like to be around me”.

 

If your child won’t open up, or if the thoughts they’re harboring seem to be crippling them academically or socially, it might be time to seek some counseling. A trained therapist can help your child challenge the negative, self-defeating thoughts they’re entertaining and help them develop new ways of thinking about themselves and their environment. 

 

Remember: When you change your thoughts, you change your life.


Parenting a child with ADHD

A wise friend once told me “What’s in a diagnosis?”…words that I held on to over the years and use in my practice when working with families. We do not need a diagnosis to learn new strategies to adjust undesirable behaviors or teach a child to improve self-regulation. A diagnosis helps us to understand the child and meet them where they are at; however, it does not define the child.

 

When should a child be assessed?

A psychoeducational assessment can provide helpful strategies to manage the behaviors at home and school. Diagnosing young children for ADHD is still considered controversial before the ages of 6 or 7. The reason for this and largely overlooked, it is developmentally appropriate for young children to be impulsive. Evaluating them when they are older provides greater insight to assess their ability to concentrate and multi-task once they are in elementary school or even later.

Parents may feel overwhelmed and therefore seek the diagnosis early on for support. Regardless of a diagnosis or not, there are many strategies for parents to implement at home to make things easier on the child as well as for the whole family; strategies that help manage the behaviors especially for the child who may feel like they just cannot help themselves and often feel bad for their actions.

Here are some tools that are proven to help a child succeed:

𝑪𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝒂 “𝒔𝒂𝒇𝒆 𝒔𝒑𝒂𝒄𝒆” 𝒂𝒕 𝒉𝒐𝒎𝒆 🤗:

Children experiencing behavioral difficulties may experience exclusion or misunderstandings outside their home so it is vital to provide a safe space at home where they can simply ‘be’ who they are. If possible, create a special place in your home where your child can take a break from siblings or relatives. Decorate it with soft pillows and soothing colors, especially if the child becomes overwhelmed easily.

𝑴𝒂𝒌𝒆 𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒄𝒍𝒂𝒔𝒔𝒓𝒐𝒐𝒎 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒔𝒐𝒄𝒊𝒂𝒍 𝒔𝒆𝒕𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒔 🙌 :

If the child goes to daycare or you are looking for one, try to find a setting with smaller class sizes. This will allow for less distractions and movement in the classroom. A Montessori school or approach can also help foster the child’s creative development rather than make them adhere to formal classroom norms. When choosing social activities, try to find ones that involve fewer children such as swimming, karate or art classes. This will set the child up for more success with fewer distractions.

𝑷𝒓𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒒𝒖𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒃𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒌𝒔 😴 :

Throughout the day, children should be allowed and encouraged to take breaks from their activities and to have quieter spaces with fewer distractions. Breaks are essential to help target symptoms of distractibility and hyperactivity. At home or in school, a quiet corner can be set up with calming activities (picture books, headphones to listen to calming music, sensory or tactile toys, a mat to stretch out on), in a space with less traffic and distractions.

𝑮𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒔𝒊𝒎𝒑𝒍𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒄𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒓 𝒊𝒏𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒔 🧠:

To help children as they grow and know their routines, we ask questions to stimulate language development and teach children how to become independent thinkers. In young children, we often give verbal instructions, older children can have them written out for them. In both cases, for a child with ADHD or symptoms of, be sure to break down the instructions into small steps by using clear and simple language. The instructions must be clear and concrete. Rather than a vague command such as: “Get ready for bed” we can say: “It is time to get ready for bed, first brush your teeth, then put on your pyjamas”.

𝑷𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒔𝒖𝒑𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕 ❤️ :

Encouragement and support are essential to all parents. Let’s face it, parenting can be a tough job, but the rewards are truly great. Parenting a child with behavior difficulties often feels overwhelming for parents and they seek professional help as a last resort. We all can learn new strategies as our children grow. Parents of children with difficulties need to form a strong support network of professionals, educators, as well as other parents experiencing similar challenges. This will help parents feel less overwhelmed and more grounded to face the struggles with support and confidence so as not to feel alone. This is so important, always have hope. 🌈💙