My five-year-old says she loves salad.
Never mind the fact that the only salads she’ll eat are plain caesar salad (lettuce, cheese, dressing, croutons) or a simple iceberg lettuce salad drenched in ranch dressing.
In her mind, she loves salad. And I think that’s dandy.
Yes, I realize that the salads she eats have limited nutritional value.
I also realize the dressings have far more fat than she probably needs (although the dangers of saturated fats are being re-evaluated and re-defined by the minute).
If You Say It, It Will Come True
Still, I love the fact that she describes herself as a “salad lover,” because I know that this self-labeling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I also know that allowing her to generalize her preference for simple salads drenched in thick dressings as “loving salads” will enable her to be willing to try more adventurous salads (say, a broccoli salad or a tomato salad) in the future.
Your Words Define Their Habits
The fact is the way we talk about our kids’ eating habits defines what their actual eating habits are.
Label your kids “picky eaters,” and they become picky eaters in their own minds. Label them “salad lovers” or “adventurous eaters,” and voila! That’s what they become.
Unfortunately, it's common for parents to interpret our kids’ picky eater stage as a firm personality trait, rather than the developmentally-appropriate stage that it is.
We get frustrated when they won’t eat the mac and cheese we prepared, simply because it has broccoli in it. So we tell them they’re picky eaters.
And, to blow off steam (after all, we spent time making that mac and cheese), we tell everyone else, too.
It's an unconscious reaction. But in order to reverse kids picky eating habits and help them grow to like new foods, it's essential to become aware of how our words affect their behavior.