Positive Language = Positive Results

You lie in wait for your child’s reaction. She sees the new food on her plate. She smells it, and then stabs it with a fork. You’re holding your breath… and… YES she tried it! You are so excited your picky eater just ate a bite of this new food and you shout from the mountaintops: “Good job!” But then, she doesn’t take another bite. In fact, she never takes a bite of that food again. What happened? Was it something you might have said? Well, maybe. Let’s look at four possibilities.

1. Language

When we say “good job” or “nice work” we are telling our kids eating is hard. It’s so hard it’s work. A picky eater’s thought process might be “why do I want to work? I just want to eat” and then ignores the new food.

As a feeding specialist, I like to comment about what the child is doing and label it with the texture of the food. So instead of saying “good job”, I say: “I love the crunching sound you are making with that food. That food is crunchy!” Or, “That food is really sticking in your teeth! That food is sticky!” When we describe the food, then we can present how this new food is similar to one of their preferred foods. “That food is crunchy! Another food that is crunchy is chips!”

2. Listen

If your child says: “I don’t want that sandwich, it makes my tummy hurt.” Listen to her. Is she being stubborn or could she possibility have a food allergy to something in the sandwich? If your child is not verbal yet, listen to what he is saying nonverbally. Is he pushing away from the table? Is he covering his mouth or turning his head? Is he grabbing the spoon and shoveling it into his mouth happily? Listen to his cues and respect his wishes.

3. Love

Parents often show their love for their children through nourishing them with food. “If you love me you will try it.” Or “Your mommy worked hard to make that for you, so show her you love her and take a bite.” If your child is truly fearful of the new food it is like asking her to eat a scorpion, no matter how much she loves you, she just can’t eat it. Or it’s possible that your child does not have the ability to move her tongue or mouth correctly in order to be successful with that food. It’s not a matter of love, it’s a matter of poor muscle function. They literally can’t.

4. Leave out the word “no”

A child can become stressed during a meal when their parent is always telling them not to do something. “Don’t hold your cup that way.” “No, that’s not the way to eat it!” “No you are not done, take one more bite.” Comments like these can discourage your child from engaging with you during the meal. Mealtimes are based on trust, so try using language like: “You can hold your cup with both hands.” “That’s one way to eat it, or you could try this way.” “It looks like you are full; you can save this for later.”

When a mealtime includes positive communication and social interactions between the parent and child, it can become a time of exploring new foods together. And yes, even eating them! Tell me about some positive language you use at the table.

Published on: November 06, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Dawn Winkelmann

Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP is a Speech Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist at her clinic Spectrum Speech & Feeding located in Newport Beach, CA. For more information visit SpectrumSpeech.com.

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