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Picky Eaters and Talk-Reluctant Teens

Q: My 16-month-old is becoming a picky eater. I know a healthy balanced diet now will contribute to good eating habits in the future, but he seems to reject anything unless it has a sweet taste. How can I get him to try healthy foods?

A: Children between the ages of one and four are universally picky eaters. So you are not alone in this situation. There are a few things to keep in mind. Fifteen months is an age at which many children begin to assert their independence. This usually plays itself out in the areas in which young children have ultimate control. Those areas are eating, sleeping, and toileting. It is important to avoid power struggles around food whenever possible. While it is certain that young children have personal preferences, we parents play a role in training the palate. This means cutting back on the sweeter foods. Many parents give their children juice, which contains empty calories and also adds to the craving for sweets. If you have been serving juice you may want to begin cutting it with water until you are able to eliminate the juice completely.

Know that a child needs to be introduced to a new food about five times before he comes to accept it. In other words, don’t give up too soon. Make sure that you keep meal times pleasant and upbeat. Try to serve some part of the meal you know your child will enjoy. Also, some children are sensitive to the texture of certain foods. If you suspect this may be the case, try to alter the texture such as mashing a potato rather than offering it baked. Adding cheese to the potato or melting cheese over vegetables often adds to the appeal for some children. You’re aiming for a tone of gentle persistence. The vast majority outgrows this stage and comes to enjoy a wide variety of foods.

Q: My 15-year-old daughter pours her heart out to her best friend’s mother and lets me in on virtually nothing. Please help.

A: While I understand that you would prefer that your daughter open up to you, try to be thankful that she has a trusted adult to whom she feels comfortable confiding. Having said that, there are some key points to think about. Does your daughter feel that you will keep her confidence or does she worry that you will discuss her most personal feelings with your friends or family? Trust is key when parenting teens and it works both ways. Let your daughter know that she can come to you with anything and that what she shares stays between the two of you. The other point to consider is how you react to shared information. It is not uncommon for a parent to become emotional or overreact to a teen’s issues. The problem is that teens, who are very hormonal, are having enough trouble handling their own emotions let alone dealing with those of a parent. It is key to manage your own emotions before you try to deal with those of your teen. While this is easier said than done, it is very important not to scare your teen away and have her shut down. Sometimes an overnight or weekend away with your teen is a way to break the ice. Do something fun and while you are at it, try to express your willingness to listen and keep confidence. Consider sharing some of the things you struggled with at her age as a way to connect.

Susan Brown holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, as well as degrees in early childhood education and psychology. A mother, teacher, children’s book author, and nationally known family educator, she works with clients at Everyday Parenting Solutions.
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