Your toddler controls his emotions with the fork
In the first year of life, the baby is not entirely aware of his own individuality, identifying himself with his parents. Since the difference “me – my Mommy/Daddy” is vaguely understood, this year is a period of relative calmness; as long as baby’s basic needs are satisfied, the shadow of conflicts is away.
Unfortunately, this grace period is limited; after 2 years, the child becomes aware of his own individuality and, most of the time, he gets into the area of “NO”. As a mother, you have to manage properly the problems of the “NO” age. Your toddler’s negative attitude is not necessarily a willful disobedience, but more like a healthy statement of independence, absolutely normal and necessary in this stage of his development. Through negation, your child expresses his own identity and individuality growing and expanding. Ignoring what you want, he learns to make his own decisions and to think by himself. He receives self-confidence.
In a mandatory manner, around the age of 2, “NO” makes its appearance during meals, too. Your wonderful baby, who used to eat anything and everything, showing no fuss, turns into a picky, fussy eater. “I don’t like this! I don’t want that! I’m not hungry!” are the first words when it’s eating time. Before getting worry or upset, remember that a picky child is absolutely normal. It is not the case to turn the kitchen table into a battlefield, where you and your child are fighting with forks. Even here, you have to let him win his independence or, at least, you have to let him think he has won his independence.
According to Sal Severe, PhD, author of How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will Too! (Viking, 2002), it is quite normal for toddlers to go through a finicky-eating phase for emotional, development. Not surprisingly, 95 percent of picky eaters are between the ages of 2 and 4.
Before forcing your child to eat what, when and how much you want, keep in mind that if he doesn’t have any physical disease that might determine him to totally refrain from food, he will not starve himself. Think about the fact that in his little world, the need for security is great. If you barge into his life with a lot of new tastes, textures and scents, he might strongly resist you. It is normal for him to cling to things that he is familiar with and which he loves. More than this, for really picky children, it is possible to accept no more than maximum 20 types of foods and food combinations, for a certain periods of time.
Another aspect of the newly discovered individuality, from the perspective of you – me relationship, is that your toddler becomes interested of the phenomenon “what will you do, if I do that.” He becomes aware of cause-effect relation and he might want to practice it in the kitchen, too. For example, he can express it as blackmail “if I eat this green stuff, you have to give me a super great dessert.” Or it may be a reaction like “Let’s see if airplane-spoon will come if I pretend that I don’t want to eat”.
Anyway, the point is not to exaggerate when it comes about fussy and picky eating. Think that once the growth rate decreases, your baby doesn’t need to eat as much as he needed before. Pushing it too hard, you might teach your child to eat more than he needs, which leads to obesity, or you may determine him to reject food, which can trigger food disorders. Your exaggerated need to control your child’s eating habits can lead to his exaggerated need to control what he eats, so think twice how to approach your toddler’s eating behavior.
Marchi M, & Cohen, P. (1990). Early childhood eating behaviors and adolescent eating disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry