How Expressing Empathy for Your Picky Eaters Can Promote Family Bonding

How Expressing Empathy for Your Picky Eaters Can Promote Family Bonding September 27, 2023

family bonding
family bonding
Photo by Junior REIS on Unsplash

Picky eaters can be tricky to deal with, especially if you don’t know how they gained the trait. However, expressing empathy for your child is the key to getting them to try new things. Even the pickiest of eaters may like something new if encouraged enough. You can look forward to family bonding as you jump over the hurdles together and tackle each new obstacle. 

Though picky eaters can present several challenges, it’s your chance to express empathy and relate to their situation, improving your family bonds and encouraging them overall.

What Causes Picky Eating?

Picky eaters typically consume less than 30 foods and might have an issue with textures, flavors and temperatures. Kids are commonly picky eaters, as they can refuse foods that are touching or avoid certain meals altogether. While it can be challenging to reverse, dealing with a picky eater is not impossible.

One issue might be not introducing them to enough food from a young age. As babies grow, they should try several different foods. This can help parents determine allergies and get them acquainted with new tastes. Not everyone had that experience — some kids may not be used to a certain texture and could refuse to eat foods based on that.

Texture is one of the main things that could prevent a child from eating their food. Having an open conversation about what’s on their plate could encourage them to eat more, or you may find out exactly why they hate it. Understanding them personally and showing empathy could change how they look at food now that they know someone can relate to their experiences.

Alternatively, picky eaters could result from kids whose parents used food as a reward instead of framing it as fuel for the body and mind. They might have learned that some food is more valuable than others, so they prioritize those “fun” foods over ones that actually nourish them. Breaking this mindset might be challenging, but it will be worth reframing a child’s opinion of food. You can prioritize your family bonding over nutritious, delicious meals.

Expressing Empathy While Working With Picky Eaters

Help your child through their picky eating by putting yourself in their shoes. Expressing empathy can be difficult, particularly if it was never mirrored for you in your own childhood. Increasing your family bonding time can lead to greater trust and better dealing with the issues that prevent your kid from eating a well-rounded meal. 

You must remember to be compassionate. Empathy will go a long way, especially if you show your child you care about their feelings and struggles. One of the benefits of relating to picky eaters is that your compassion can make your child feel heard and understood. They may be more willing to try your suggestions to overcome their pickiness.

1. Respect Their Eating Rules

Boundaries and rules keep people safe and happy. Your picky eater might have set certain limits regarding the food they’ll eat, and sometimes, the best you can do is abide by them. You can check for your child’s facial expressions and gestures to ensure they remain comfortable with your suggestions as you navigate their rules. Respecting their boundaries shows you care about your child’s feelings.

The best thing you can tell yourself is that they’re eating, and that’s what’s important. For example, if they’ll only eat sandwiches with the crusts cut off, use that knife. Though they might be losing some nutrition, what’s in the sandwich should be what matters most. In other cases, it might be as simple as preparing healthy food differently, like slicing baby carrots instead of offering them whole.

Sometimes, healthy boundaries look like imposing limits on yourself — you would trust yourself not to violate them. Your child may have had a bad experience with food. For example, eating something they’re not used to could have correlated with an upset stomach or vomiting. They might link that food to not feeling well and may never want to eat it again. Your child may think they’re caring for themselves and establishing a healthy boundary.

It can be challenging to tackle this fear, especially when it deeply affects their thinking. Younger children might not have the processing capabilities to understand that a food may not have made them sick. You can guide them in the right direction and encourage them to challenge themselves while respecting their avoidance of certain foods.

2. Work With a Schedule

It isn’t necessarily a cause for concern if your child refuses to eat at certain intervals. They might be listening to their hunger cues and not want to eat when they don’t feel hungry. You shouldn’t punish them for listening to their body’s cues, as it helps them build a healthier relationship with food.

Instead, try to have dinner around the same time every night. Structure and routine are crucial to helping a child develop healthy habits, and they’ll be more likely to get hungry around that time. Stick with a plan, though it might be difficult to uphold sometimes.

3. Offer Choices

You shouldn’t have to cook two separate meals to keep everyone in your family happy. Doing too much will put unnecessary stress on yourself, which could lead to physical side effects that would leave you unable to care for your family properly. 

Instead, offer them the choice of two meals the rest of your family is OK with. This allows them to experiment with food in a healthy range and gives them some autonomy in choosing what they would like.

Once in a while, you might be able to offer your child fast food to coax them into eating. It’s loaded with sugar and salt, two things children prefer, so a Happy Meal might feed them when nothing else can. You must use moderation, though — maybe you could use it to mix up weeknight meals after your child has had home-cooked food for a while.

4. Encourage Mealtime Fun

Your family should look forward to sitting down together for a meal. Every evening, you need a break from your hectic life to spend time together as a family. No matter where you go or what time you eat, you should make mealtime something to anticipate. Get your kids excited to eat dinner and they may be more likely to partake.

Show gratitude for every moment your family is together. You’ll feel more positivity around one another when you express your appreciation for being together. Expressing empathy can ensure your child feels welcome at the table, boundaries and all. Show vulnerability with your children and they will likely interact with you more.

5. Take a Breath

Challenging food aversions won’t always be easy. Sometimes, you may feel like you took a few steps backward instead of forward. You must show empathy to your child in this situation — it might be just as frustrating for them to work through. 

It can be difficult to put yourself in your kid’s shoes all the time, especially if you’ve been working at this food aversion with little success for a while. It’s bound to be upsetting — but don’t bottle up your anger, lest it come out on someone later. Reflect on what triggered your frustration, then let your emotions out for your own benefit. Do so once you’re safely away from everyone. Remember to pause now and then in the moment, taking a breath to regulate yourself and your feelings.

Work on Family Bonding and Increasing Empathy

It can be frustrating to deal with parenting struggles, but you must remain strong for your child. They may be nervous or scared to try something new, and that’s where family bonding comes in — empathy leads to trust, which proves to your child they can trust you. 

One of the benefits of relating to picky eaters is that they’ll trust you with their boundaries and might even explain what they dislike about a food. From there, suggest ways to make the dish more palatable. Work with your child at their pace — eventually, you’ll find a way to keep them healthy and happy, growing up strong.

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