A Little Parental Detective Work Can Improve This Frustrating Situation

Being a parent can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride.  As kids grow, they go through many different phases, challenging parents to understand and adapt.

Each child has a unique personality and follows their own special journey through development.  Sometimes it is difficult for parents to navigate all of the ups-and-downs and understand the world through their child’s eyes.

The phases each child goes through can cause frustration for parents – trying to adapt to each of their preferences, interests, and personality quirks can be exhausting.   Having a picky eater on your hands is one of these frustrating experiences – but there are ways to get to the bottom of it.

There are many reasons a child may be a picky eater, and while it is worrisome for parents and can be difficult to deal with, it is helpful to really understand the reasons why.

Lemon Lime Adventures reported on some of the most common reasons why your child just won’t eat – and understanding your child’s unique situation can provide relief for the whole family:

The Sensory ConnectionWe decide what we’re going to eat based on our senses.

Even us grown-ups, if you think about it, we decide what we’re going to eat based on how it looks, how it smells, how it feels, how it tastes. There’s no avoiding that eating is a very sensory-rich experience!

If you see other signs of sensory issues in your child, then it is likely part of their picky eating has a sensory cause.  Do they have certain sensitivities to particular kinds of clothing, toys, or even human touch?

When a child has certain sensory preferences in one area, it is likely their preferences will manifest in other ways.  Many children – and even adults – have food aversions due to texture, appearance, or smell.  It is especially difficult for a child to try new things or deviate from what they are comfortable with when there is an underlying sensory issue.

It’s really important to first always consider what is going on from the sensory angle when we’re trying to figure out why our kids refuse to eat. It really helps us be a little bit more patient and compassionate with our kids when we can understand that they’re not doing this to be bad. They’re not refusing to eat because they just don’t feel like eating it. It’s because it’s really physically uncomfortable to them.

Underlying Medical Issues – If you’re not seeing a sensory reason at all, and you’re not seeing that they’re having any problem chewing or moving the food around in their mouth, it’s really, really important to consider an underlying medical reason for their struggles. They don’t even realize that they’re in pain, but they instinctively know certain things make it worse. Eating is just uncomfortable, and sometimes downright painful, for these kids.

Many children have medical issues like acid reflux, food allergies, or other digestive disorders.  Especially at a young age, it is hard for kids to express that they are in pain. But they will instinctively avoid anything that will make them feel worse.

If you see that your child is only eating one or two particular foods and you feel you have ruled out other causes, it is important to discuss it with your pediatrician.  Finding an underlying medical issue now can quickly improve the situation, and because knowing is half the battle, it will likely bring comfort to you by giving you some insight into the problem.

Lemon Lime Adventures continued with one of the more common reasons for picky eating:

The Picky Developmental Phase The reason that’s actually probably the most common, it’s right up there with sensory preferences. This reason your kids refuse to eat is that they’ve reached the normal picky eating phase. Most of our kids hit this somewhere between the ages of one and two and they can stay in it until they’re three and a half to five years old.

Of all the reasons your child won’t eat, perhaps the most common is that old saying, “It’s just a phase.”  It really is developmentally appropriate to go through phases, including picky eating.

Between the ages of one and three or four, kids take comfort in what is familiar.  If they like a certain food, they tend to stick with that one food because they have not yet reached an understanding of trying new things or experiences.  Kids thrive on routine and don’t like change.  Once they find what works, they will stick with it until they develop a bit more maturity.

Lemon Lime Adventures continued:

If your child is in the developmental stage of picky eating, you can take heart and know that if you’re staying the course and working hard with your child, and you’re keeping a good routine around meals, your child will likely grow out of it soon.

They’re exercising their independence. They’re not at a place where they’re open to exploring new things in a lot of ways. It’s a huge mental shift for them. It’s really because their brain is developing more, and they’re open to trying more and able to understand things better.

It’s Behavioral – Sometimes when normal picky eating happens, it can snowball out of control too. As parents, we freak out, we start doing all kinds of crazy things, and sometimes we go down a rabbit hole and it can grow into something much bigger and our kids don’t come out of it.

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This is where the family and friends may come in with their unsolicited advice.  Your child is not being “bad” or “spoiled” because they refuse to eat what you want them to.  However, their need for control may be a symptom of a behavioral issue that is worth looking into.

The main reason that picky eating turns behavioral is that this is one of the areas in their life that they can control. They can control sleep and they can control eating. If a child wants to get some control in their life, this is one of the first they’re going to go to get it. If you find yourself thinking that there’s a really big behavioral component for your child, then you need to take a step back and think, “What are they trying to tell me with this?”

Just like with underlying medical issues, once you feel you have eliminated other reasons, this type of picky eating is one you should discuss with your pediatrician.

Are there changes or problems going on in your family or household?  Kids are extremely perceptive when what they know as being safe and part of their routine is disrupted.  They may not be able to control their environment or express their fears, so they may react by controlling their eating habits – the one thing they can control.

There are many reasons for picky eating – some completely normal and age-appropriate, and others a cause for concern.  As parents, we must take cues from our children when something is bothering them and get to the bottom of it.

If your child seems to be otherwise healthy and happy, then your picky eater may just be going through a normal childhood phase.  With a little patience and some detective skills, your frustration can decrease as you learn what works for your child.

Do you have a picky eater?  Did you find it was part of a normal phase, or did you discover underlying issues to help you improve the situation?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments.