What’s often thought of as fussy eating could actually be chalked up as a battle for independence – but how can you tell the difference?
One of the best things a parent can give their young child is the gift of independence. As your baby develops, so does their ability to turn door handles, pull on clothes and navigate the use of a spoon, but with that also comes frustration and resistance. To assert their will, they will usually oppose yours – particularly when it comes to mealtimes.
Research by baby and toddler food brand Organix found that nearly half of mothers (46%) believe their child is a fussy eater, but according to clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, the chances are that they’re actually just becoming more independent.
“The toddler years are a time when little ones want to start taking charge, and it’s a crucial stage in their development,” she says. “For parents, that can be hard, and especially when it comes to food, as mum tries to do her job of feeding her little one well, and her toddler is doing their job of showing they have their own opinions.”
So, how can you tell if this is the start of your toddler’s inkling of their budding abilities, or if they really are just a fussy eater? “Firstly, toddlers quickly learn the word ‘no’,” says Dr Rudkin. “They can finally vocalise their views and will enjoy rehearsing this word all day!
“Secondly, look at their body language. Turning their head away, going rigid, running away – these are all ways of letting you know they don’t like a certain food today.
“Lastly, just as their need for independence grows, so does their sensitivity and they can get upset easily. A meltdown is just part of a developmental phase and is nothing to get too concerned about.”
Encourage their independence
No. Learn when your toddler is saying no and meaning it, and when they’re just saying no for the sake of it. When tired or hungry, they could say no to everything!
Communicating. Talk to your toddler to help their language skills. For example, tell them what’s for tea, and describe the different foods on their plate.
Choices. Giving your little one a choice of two foods teaches the important skill of compromise and helps them feel informed and able to assert their independence.
Explore. Allow them to enjoy appropriate independence, such as spooning food on to their plate, or making a fun face with their lunch. It’s OK if it gets a little messy!
How much? Ask them how many mouthfuls they think they could eat. You can negotiate, but often what they say will be a true indication of how much they want.
Illogical. What your toddler will love one day, can be refused the next. Don’t give up – chances are, even if they rejected it before, they may change their minds again.
Learning. Children naturally want to learn and do things by themselves. Encourage this with a grow-your-own vegetable patch or pot, or asking them to help with the shopping.