I arrived with my family to the park on a perfect sunny day to celebrate my one year old niece’s birthday. Having so many friends and family together put a huge smile on my face.
And then it happened.
My uncle gave me a strange look and said: “You’re really going to let them eat cake and nothing else??” looking at me and then my children with a look of disgust.
It felt like a gut punch – the judgment and condescending nature of his comment – my smile could not have faded more quickly.
So many of us have been there, hearing comments like:
Why is she so picky?
You’re not going to make him eat anything?
You’re going to let them eat only dessert?
You need to get better control of your child!
As a pediatric dietitian and feeding expert, I get asked a lot about how to discuss feeding with others.
These are people in your life who have good intentions, but often don’t respect or may challenge your feelings and beliefs when it comes to how you feed your little ones.
This can be tricky to navigate – ultimately we want them to value our beliefs and approach.
You can feel heard, confident and calm when it comes to these comments.
Let’s talk about 5 powerful ways to overcome feeding comments from friends, family and anyone else that feels the need to insert themselves into your life.
5 ways to navigate feeding comments from others
1. Prepare them in advance
Talk to others before an outing or event, or just about your feeding strategy in general.
If your child may not eat the food offered at a family member’s house, let the host know what to expect. This will help you feel more confident going into the event as well, and will keep expectations in check.
Share with them information on the division of responsibility or whatever approach you choose to follow, and why you choose to follow this approach.
How might you approach this subject?
Before your child spends time with a new family member, talk to them.
“Aunt Karen, we follow something called the division of responsibility. We allow Sally to choose what to eat based on what we’re offering her. When you give her lunch while watching her today, can you follow this approach? I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.”
Or how about the grandparent who makes comments about the amount your child eats?
“Mom, thanks so much for spending lunch with me and Alex, we love spending time with you. I’d like to ask you not to make any comments about how Alex eats when she’s around. We trust she is meeting her needs”
Talking about it before can be extremely helpful.
2. Have a civilized conversation (or try at least)
You get to make feeding decisions. I’ve spoken with several family members to explain why we do things the way we do (like offering dessert with dinner), and it can be interesting to open other’s eyes about doing things differently.
I’ve worked with families that have explained their child’s sensory challenges to others, which has been productive.
Disclaimer: you don’t owe anyone anything. You have the power to ignore, not respond to, or simply swat away any comment.
3. Deep. Breaths.
I’m the first to understand: some family members may be more passionate than others.
When you feel put down, judged or shamed based on your way of doing something, try not to let those around you bring you down.
I think about employing some mindfulness techniques. Close your eyes and count to 10. Take 5 deep breaths.
Find your support system and talk to them.
4. You’re not going to please everyone.
As with all things parenting everyone has an idea of how things should be and may feel they have the “right” approach.
Remember, the choices you make are in the best interest of your child – tune out the noise. Sometimes we have to make choices.
And get support from others! Join my Facebook community, or lean on a friend who shares similar values for support.
5. Think about how you are speaking in front of your children.
Although we may have the best intentions to chat with a family member or friend prior to a big event, it may not happen.
If a family member does something you don’t like, speak up.
In our family, this happens often when a family member tries to tell one of my children they have “had enough” or “to eat their vegetables before dessert.”
I may something like, “Uncle Jo, we let Sydney decide how much she wants to eat with her given food. Sydney, it’s your choice how much you eat,” and then after the fact I may explain myself to the family member.
I try not to get into an argument or heated debate in front of a child.
I want you to also remember the following if anyone starts to question anything related to your child’s body or eating, know that:
You are the parent your child needs
You are doing a great job
There is nothing wrong with your child or you
You have not “caused” their picky eating
And you don’t need to justify anything
These 5 ideas will help you navigate those unsolicited comments that come from your friends and family.
The next time that well meaning uncle decides to comment on your kids and their eating, take a deep breath, and make a decision: you are doing a great job and tell him why.
For weekly tips to help you navigate feeding your family, with a pediatric dietitian (that’s me!) that get its, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.