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"Picky Eater" and other Socially Acceptable Labels We Put on Our Kids

20 December 2011

Can you imagine a report coming home from school that said:

"Your child is just not good at math. He won't do anything that has numbers in it." Or, "Your child is terrible at reading. If I were you, I'd just give up and let her watch TV or movies instead."

I don't know about you, but I would be horrified! And yet, when it comes to some of things that we are responsible for teaching our children, we give them these kinds of reports all the time. We complain that are kids are messy or have bad manners. We label our children as shy, impulsive, disorganized, or stubborn.

I do this all the time. I'm trying to be more aware of it, especially as my kids are getting older. But still. I do it all the time. So, what I'm about to say, is said out of love, not judgement. Change the specific label and it's a lesson I need to heed myself.

Here goes. Please, if you want your child to be a better eater, stop labeling your child as a "Picky Eater." (And yes, I do I realize that it is also hypocritical of me to use the term "picky eater," in so many of my posts and titles.)

Being Picky Becomes Part of their Identity

I can't tell you how often parents have said to me in front of their child, "(Insert Name Here) is such a picky eater." "He/ she won't eat anything." or "He/ she won't eat any vegetables."

Perhaps you've heard the quote by Peggy O'Mara, "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice."

When kids hear their parents say that they are picky it reinforces their behavior and becomes part of their identity. I've had children join us for lunch or dinner, and before trying anything they will announce, "I'm a picky eater."

When it comes to eating, you are your child's primary teacher. As I mentioned at the start of the post, think about how you (or your child) would feel, if you heard their teacher announce, "(Your Child's Name) just isn't a good reader," in front of your child.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

If you assume that your child is picky and won't eat something, you won't serve it to them, or expect them to eat it, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Change the Language

Try changing the language around and focus on the positive. If you child eats anything new, talk up how adventurous they're becoming in their eating or say, "Aren't you glad you tried that, otherwise you'd be missing out on something great."

When you see other children eating vegetables, don't say: "My child would never eat that!" or "I wish my child would eat that!" Instead say, "(Your child's name) just LOVES (insert name of any vegetable that your child will eat---carrots, tomatoes in tomato sauce, etc.)

If your child says that they're picky, say, "Being picky is no fun. There are so many good foods that picky eaters miss out on. Let's work on being more adventurous eaters!"

Now if only I could figure out how to get my messy kids to keep their rooms clean... ;)


  1. Thanks for the reminder. I too fall into the labeling my kid.

  2. As I wrote the post, I thought about all of the things that I say mindlessly that are probably less than helpful! I'm sure that it's something all parents struggle with, but it can be an easy change to make that may have a huge impact!

  3. I'm rereading your old posts based on your blog recommendation from today. You have really good advice and I could use continual reminders of "phrase it in a positive way". I love your sentences of praise.

    1. Thanks, Julie. So good to hear from you again! I need the reminders too... it took me all of 5 minutes after writing the post to make the exact kind of comment I was warning against :)


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