Read the Introduction and Part 2 of this series here.
One of the thoughts that also kept popping in my head during those times was
“they aren’t going to eat it cause they didn’t eat it last time”.
Imagine you’re learning to drive and during your first practical lesson you can’t start your engine right, your engine dies during a maneuver or you miss a gear when switching.
If you thought “hey, I’m not going to do this again cause I failed last time” it would be kind of crazy to believe anyone could learn how to drive ever.
Why would things be any different with our kids eating anything?
Why would you stop doing something just because once upon a time you had an unpleasant experience with it? People would not marry anymore, they would only eat bread and butter and wouldn’t have jobs if they simply gave up after the first, second, third or n-th try.
Past experiences do not qualify future outcomes.
What I also found true, at least in my case, was that somehow we believe they already know how to eat and don’t need to learn anything anymore.
Ellyn Satter, the lady who wrote about the division of responsibility in feeding that I talked about in the part about mindset, says that it takes time (years!) for children to grow up into confident eaters. In fact, they will keep learning how to feed themselves and manage food up until high school.
So learning how to eat and enjoy any food is a test of patience and time.
As adults, we have grown accustomed to instant gratifications. We expect a certain result immediately after a certain action. Or at least, we don’t expect results after years.
PIN IT FOR LATER
But with kids, learning is a process that has ups and downs, is not linear and often doesn’t make sense to us.
Have you ever had one of those moments as a parent, when you simply said
“Oh, wow, you got it now!”
That’s when your kid has successfully learned something. It’s one of those moments when you feel accomplished as a parent.
But it takes so much more time for them to get there, that we feel lost and impatient along the way. Our kids need to learn many things from the moment they’re born, not only how to eat. They have a lot on their minds and take more time to learn to do things right than an adult who has already mastered the skills needed to get along in life.
So it comes down to learning. How do children learn to enjoy food?
First, you need to understand their process, cause it’s a different one than ours which learns things logically and in sequence.
Children look, touch, taste, smell, and take food in and out of their mouths. They also hear what goes on in their eating environment. They use all of their senses at mealtimes.
This doesn’t happen necessarily in a logical order. What would seem a normal sequence for a grownup (touch, smell, eat), for a kid things might not be such a logical thing to do and they might not do it the same as we do.
They’re telling themselves a different story than us about the food that’s in front of them.
And guess what? Eating food might not even be the conclusion of their story.
Their “food story” could start with touching it, taking a bite, then smelling, then deciding it’s not good.
Or they can smell and that’s it.
Or they can take a bite while playing “who touches the food is a loser”. And then call it a day.
Remember I talked about exposures. For kids, exposures happen at so many levels, not just through eating. Interactions with food go deeper than just to satisfy hunger.
It’s exhausting, really, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be simpler if they just picked it up and ate it?
I think that’s one of the biggest revelations during these past 3 years since I’ve started feeding other tummies than mine. They don’t eat their food following a clear pattern and we need to take into consideration the story that goes on in their heads at mealtimes.
But how do you do that?
You touch upon all the points in the story and make sure they are in sync with what you would like them to learn (eventually! remember it can take years).
I’m going to talk next about how children look, which would normally be the first step in an eating sequence, but in their case can be at the beginning, during or at the end of a meal.