Parent Modeling: 5 Tips for Dealing with Fussy Eaters

As parents, we all want our children to develop healthy eating habits. But what if you have a fussy eater at home? Instead of constantly telling your child to eat their vegetables, consider using parent modeling to encourage healthy eating habits. Research suggests that parent modeling is a powerful tool in shaping children’s behaviours, and it can be more effective than verbal communication in some cases.

What is parent modeling?

Parent modeling is a behaviour observed in many species, including humans, where parents demonstrate behaviours and skills for their offspring. In humans, this can involve modeling eating techniques and habits, positive attitudes towards food, and healthy mealtime routines. Parent modeling is a non-verbal communication method that can be more effective than verbal communication in shaping children’s behaviours.

Parent Modeling: A Strategy for Dealing with Fussy Eaters

Here are some practical mealtime examples to help you model healthy eating habits for your child:

  1. With babies and toddlers you can show how you manage food in your mouth or by hand. It’s okay to be demonstrative and messy, because at this important period of their lives babies and toddlers are learning to manage textures and to chew and be comfortable with touching food. Good eating skills as well as sensory tolerance can help reduce fussy eating.
  2. Do as I do not as I say. You can show a positive attitude toward food by eating it, casually enjoying it, offering to your child it without insisting. Too much “OMG it’s so yummy, why don’t you try?” will pressurise any child who is stuck with fussy eating.
  3. Ensure you and your partner avoid negative language around food: Instead of using negative language like “yucky” or “gross” when talking about certain foods, model a positive and curious attitude towards food. The day I introduced oyster to my then young daughters, my husband turned up and said, ‘that’s yuck’. What do you think happened to my attempt?
  4. If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, make sure to model this behaviour yourself. Serve yourself a side of veggies with your meal and enjoy them. This can show your child that eating vegetables is a normal, safe and positive thing to do.
  5. Serve a variety of foods: offer a variety of foods at mealtime, including ones that your child may not have tried before as well as staples your child can eat. For example, you can serve a new type of fruit for dessert or a different vegetable as a side dish. Your child will have the option to help themselves.

Parent modeling is an effective way to encourage children to develop healthy eating habits. By incorporating these practical mealtime examples into your parenting approach, you can effectively model eating a varied diet. Remember that parent modeling is a powerful tool in shaping children’s behaviours, and non-verbal communication can be more effective than verbal communication in some cases. So, lead by example and enjoy mealtime with your child!

(Loth, K.A., MacLehose, R.F., Fulkerson, J.A., Crow, S., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). “Eat this, not that! Parental demographic correlates of food-related parenting practices.” Journal of Family Psychology, 27(1), 2-11.)

Hendy, M.M., Williams, K.E., & Camise, T.S. (2005). “Parental and child eating behavior as predictors of change in overweight status: A descriptive study.” Appetite, 45(3), 251-261.)

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