How Parents’ Anxiety Makes Children Picky Eaters

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Children who are fussy eaters may have more than highly discerning taste buds. They may have parents who are anxious or depressed.

One study we covered in a past blog noted children’s Picky Eating Can Indicate Anxiety, Depression or ADHD. And now another study found children’s picky eating may also be linked to their parents’ mental health.

Picky Eating and Parents’ Mental Health

The study that found the link between children’s fussy eating and their parents’ mental health was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. The study looked at 4,746 pairs of mothers and children, along with 4,144 fathers, with the children born between the 2002 and 2006.

By the time children turned 3 years old, overall statistics showed that 30 percent of them were deemed to be picky eaters.

Researchers discovered that the risk of children becoming picky eaters was increased:

  • If mothers had been anxious during pregnancy
  • If mothers had been depressed during pregnancy
  • If fathers had been depressed during the mother’s pregnancy
  • If mothers and/or fathers had been anxious before their child started school
  • If mothers and/or fathers had been depressed before their child started school

The higher the mother’s anxiety was during her pregnancy, the more likely her child was to develop fussy eating habits. While the link between picky eating and parents’ mental health was clear, researchers were unable to discern why that link existed.

Top Picky Eating Mistakes to Avoid

Some children move past picky eating as they get older, while others may continue to be fussy about their foods well into adulthood. Dealing with a picky eater can be challenging, but it gets a bit easier if you avoid several common mistakes.

Skip the negative talk. Children are much more receptive to positive messages than negative ones, according to a Cornell University study. That means telling your child about the amazing benefits of eating an apple can be more effective than telling him or her about the negative effects of eating candy.

Don’t drag out mealtime. Whatever food children consume within the first 15 to 20 minutes of the meal is typically enough to keep them satisfied until the next meal. That means turning a meal into a two-hour affair until a plate is empty can be futile. It can also lead to a child establishing negative associations with eating.

Avoid feeding a child who’s not hungry. Just because you’re always hungry when mealtime rolls around doesn’t mean your child will be. If children don’t get a lot of exercise between meals or have slow digestion, they may not be hungry when you are. Look for cues that your child is hungry and try to adjust his or her schedule accordingly.

Stop offering too many snacks. A snack or two throughout the day is OK to last until the next meal. But some parents may go overboard, which often results in a child not being hungry when mealtime hits. Particularly avoid offering snacks right before a meal; you want your child’s hunger to be in peak form when he or she sits down at the table.

Picky eating in children is not uncommon, and effectively dealing with it starts by following a few strategies while serving as a positive role model for your children when it comes eating.


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