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Picky Eaters

So… you have a picky eater. It’s causing stress for the whole family and you’re worried about your child’s nutritional intake. You’ve tried to get them to sample new foods, you’ve explained why they have to eat more foods, you’ve probably even begged – but you keep hitting a brick wall.

Our Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists see many picky eaters in our Bondi Junction clinic, in fact, most of the children in our Sydney clinic are picky eaters. Our therapists understand the stress that families go through when a child is resistant to new foods. They understand the frustration that parents feel when their child wants to eat the same, limited range of foods. They see the desperation that comes when their child refuses to eat the one thing that gave them some nutritional value. Let’s listen to what our feeding therapists have to say.

Picky eating behaviours starts at a fairly young age. It is the toddler years when  picky behaviours usually begin. This is especially frustrating for parents because some babies started off as very adventurous eaters but then they began to dig their heels in.

Children become picky eaters for three main reasons. The three reasons are:

  • a physiological issue
  • a motor issue
  • a learned behaviour

This concept of simplifying the reasons behind picky eating was introduced to us many years ago by  Melanie Potock, a Speech Pathologist and paediatric feeding therapist , and Dr Nimali Fernando who is a paediatrician.

A physiological issue can include things such as gastroesophageal reflux. Other children may have very strong reactions to the smell of some foods and refuse to eat them. These are physiological reasons.

A motor issues can include a host of things such as poor tongue control. This means the child struggles to move the food around their mouth. It could include a delay in gross and fine motor skills so the child has difficulty sitting up or bringing food to their mouths. These are motor reasons that can play a role in picky eating.

A learned behaviour includes the behaviour of the children, and yes, it also includes the behaviour of the parents. If your child choked on a potato or vomited after a strawberry milkshake, then they may have learned not to eat these foods in future. If you, as the parent, keep offering different options when you child refuses a meal then your child has learned that they don’t have to eat what has been offered first. These are learned behaviours for picky eating.

All of these things can play a role in your child becoming a picky eater. For more information about learned behaviours read It’s not just about the vegetables.

What do you do if you have a picky eater? The first step is the mealtime ‘reset’. There are 5 steps to the mealtime ‘reset’. When you follow the reset, your child may naturally start to broaden their eating interests. Approximately 50% of picky eaters benefit from the mealtime ‘reset’.. If they don’t improve their eating after the mealtime ‘reset’. The changes that you make at home reduce the stress associated with eating and lay a critical foundation if your child needs feeding therapy. Most people find it challenging to change behaviours in stressful situations. Picky eaters find mealtimes stressful and working on reducing the stress opens up the opportunity for your child to try new foods. Some picky eaters will need more support to eat more foods. These children come into our Sydney feeding clinic to work with our Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists. Some families do their sessions vis Skype.

To get you started on a picky eater mealtime ‘reset’ so your child, call the clinic and speak to one of our Speech Pathologists or  Occupational Therapists. An assessment allows our feeding therapists to understand any physiological concerns, motor difficulties, or learned behaviours that are specific to your child. The parent training session gives parents all the training and knowledge to start the ‘reset’ program at home. Ongoing individual and group sessions help your child learn to try new foods. Don’t worry if you live a long way from Bondi Junction, or from Sydney, we do a lot of feeding sessions by Skype. Parents can even join our picky eater mealtime ‘reset’ group sessions via Zoom. We can be contacted on (02) 80657837 or at info@localhost.