>Playful at the Dinnertable

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

My nearly three year old daughter, Natalie, is a picky eater. Actually, she’ll eat a variety of foods, but only after I literally beg her to try the first bite. For example, we’ll sit at dinner with chicken and salad; she’s eaten chicken a million times. But, she will sit and eat the tomatoes out of her salad and nothing else until I beg her to try one piece of chicken, just to show her that it is something she likes. Once she tries it, she finishes her plate.

The other day, she wouldn’t try turkey; although, she has had it before and liked it. Jokingly, I said, “Ok, don’t eat the turkey.” Sure enough, she put it in her mouth. Again, I said “Please don’t eat all this turkey,” and she ate it all. So, if I tell her not to eat, she’ll eat until she’s full.

Dinner times can be stressful because of either the exchange or lack of eating altogether. When she doesn’t eat, she is distracted by other things and wants to get down. This is disruptive for everyone at mealtime. Although, since we’ve started this “reverse psychology” technique, dinners have been much better.

I’ve tried letting her not eat and be hungry, hoping that the next time she will eat. But that doesn’t seem to have worked. Am I shooting myself in the foot by sabotaging later discipline efforts?

Thank you,
Mother of two, ages two and six months

Hi Abigail,

I think you are fine here. As long as you keep it a playful tone and in fun, it is not likely to be confused with times when you mean no. Also, when it loses its appeal, which someday it will, it won’t feel like its’ turned into pressure or frustration. In fact, to make it last longer, don’t do it at every meal or, better yet, every day. The more it can be an intermittent tactic, the longer it should last. I am all about making food fun and being playful. The more they enjoy mealtimes, the more they should be relaxed about eating. That said, one should steer clear of pressure to eat but this doesn’t feel like pressure to me.

Rene Hackney, PhD.

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