• Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 moms
  • Parents of kids with severe fussiness used strategies that involve pressure or persuasion
  • Parents of less fussy kids used strategies like letting the kids participate in food preparation

Parents of fussy eaters tend to have various strategies just to get their kids to have better eating habits. But some of these methods may just be making their kids pickier when it comes to what they consume, researchers have found.

Some kids are a little bit challenging to feed. Although there is no simple definition of fussy or picky eating, parents of fussy eaters are well aware of just how frustrating it can truly be. Many have also developed various strategies on how they can get their kids to eat better and healthier.

"Fussy eating behaviors are not conducive to high food acceptance, therefore fussy children tend not to consume a wide variety of foods," researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Appetite. "Studies of pre-school children have also found that fussiness is associated with lower fruit and vegetable intakes."

But in their study, the researchers found that some of the common strategies that parents employ may not be quite as effective as they want them to be. It may even be making their kids fussier.

For their work, the researchers aimed to look at the common strategies mothers use when their kids are being fussy eaters and to "assess differences in the strategies depending on the child's trait fussiness levels."

They used a questionnaire to ask about the strategies commonly used by 1,504 moms when their kids were being fussy eaters. The researchers also assessed the trait fussiness of the children (aged 2 to 5) using the Children's Eating Behavior Questionnaire.

Interestingly, they found that some of the common strategies parents were using may be unintentionally reinforcing fussiness. The moms whose kids had severe fussiness levels, for instance, reported using strategies of pressure or persuasion more.

Some of the strategies that inadvertently reinforced fussiness may be familiar to many parents, like telling them what the food for dinner was and that they would go to bed hungry if they refused to eat it. Other strategies also included telling them that they only needed to eat five mouthfuls or that they could do an activity they liked after eating dinner, according to Deakin University's news release.

They utilized such pressuring and persuasive strategies more than the moms whose kids had "normal" fussiness, the researchers noted.

In addition, they were also more likely to use other common strategies that many parents of fussy eaters out there may be familiar with like hiding vegetables in food just to get them to eat healthier. Although this could be helpful in the short term, it's not quite as helpful in the long term, the researchers stressed.

"Mothers of children with high levels of trait fussiness used more strategies which are not recommended that may unintentionally reinforce their child's fussy behavior and that have been shown to be associated with poor dietary intake," the researchers wrote.

On the other hand, the parents with less fussy-eating kids used strategies like involving the kids in food preparation, repeatedly serving food they wanted their kids to try as a way of encouraging them to try it and letting their children decide if they were full.

Overall, the results show that some common strategies parents utilize to encourage their kids may actually be making things worse. And it's not just a matter of trying to get the children to stop being fussy eaters but also of helping them develop healthier eating behaviors.

Perhaps parents will now be more aware of these common strategies that aren't quite as effective as they seem, and hopefully, they find the strategies that could work for their child.

"The findings tell us that we need to be doing more to help parents of fussy eaters because the strategies they are instinctively using, while well-intentioned, are not helping their children develop lifelong healthy eating behaviors," the study's lead author, Dr. Alissa Burnett of Deakin University, said in the university release. "It can be very frustrating when children refuse to eat or refuse to eat certain foods and we start to worry the child will be hungry or is not getting adequate nutrition, so providing well-targeted advice is important."

Child Eating Cereal
Representation. Pixabay