Are you pressuring your child to eat? Then read this please…

Oh it’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I apologise to you all. My practice has been super busy with new and current referrals and well family life is just always busy – but whose life isn’t right?

When I was in India, I was chatting with a lovely new friend about what I do as a job and she was intrigued about the impact of pressure (positive and negative) to eat. I promised to send her web links when I got home and honestly, I couldn’t find a good enough link that described everything I talk with my patients about. So I decided to write my own – but quoting all the amazing feeding gurus out there who preach what I preach with reasons why it’s so important.

alex, turning away

Hands up if you have said any of these phrases as a parent (don’t worry, mine will be up to)

–          Eat your dinner then you can have dessert

–          Have 3 more mouthfuls then you can leave the table

–          Vegetables are healthy for you – you must eat the broccoli on your plate

–          Finish your meat and I will give you a dollar/sticker/you can use the ipad

–          I worked all day making a delicious dinner for you, the least you can do is eat it

–          Okay, you don’t like tuna, what if I make you a peanut butter sandwich instead? will you eat that?

–          Fine – I will cook chicken for you but you promise to eat all of it right?

Now let’s try the opposite of guilt, rewards and catering …. let’s look at praise, hands up if you do this…

–          Woohoo – you ate your peas – high five!

–          Everyone clap for Sam, he just finished his plate!!

–          I’m so proud of you, you ate your vegetables, you made mummy so happy

Is your hand up? Mine is. And so why am I blogging about it? Despite whether some of those phrases were positive or negative, they were both forms of pressure. And what’s so bad about pressure? It’s how your child perceives it – often they are disappointing you and to them, that’s just the worst thing. Positive pressure shows your child which foods are important to you and right there, you have created positive and negative labels to food – dessert is positive, peas are negative. And this all adds to emotional eating for children. We want children to eat because they want to eat it – it’s delicious and makes their body feel good. They should eat because they want to – and not because it pleases you. Does that make sense?

Snack time - DOR

Why is it the number one conversation I have in an initial appointment with a parent? Because every time you pressure your child to eat, you raise their anxiety and with anxiety, adrenalin rises. Think about it- when your adrenalin is high (like before a job interview), you don’t feel like eating right? Now imagine if you do this to your child right before a meal… and then you wonder why they are not hungry? Pressure –what you say, the sighs you make, your body language all adds up and children can feel everything. They are highly tuned in beings and I know that if I make a child anxious in my session, they will never be able to explore a new food and love it themselves

I’m not alone in my thoughts either, Dietitian and feeding guru, Ellyn Satter preaches the same here and the evidence based and just common sense and practical feeding gurus Dr Katja Rowell and Speech Pathologist Jenny McGlothlin wrote a great post about it here, last but not least Dr Kay Toomey, Clinical Psychologist from the Sequential Oral Sensory Protocol insists on emphasising this idea with all of the parents in her SOS program, you can find more information on her here. So there you have it – a Dietitian, Doctor, Speech Pathologist and Clinical Psychologist all saying the same thing… it’s got to be worth something!


So what to do instead? Check out my blog post on Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibilty (DOR) here, part 1 and part 2. We need to help children walk their own path to positive eating and not push them in any direction. Children will only dig their heels in and refuse to walk. Instead, hold their hand and follow your DOR. They will learn to eat when they are ready, who knows, one day they might just finish their plate – because they were hungry or eat their broccoli because it tasted delicious – and wouldn’t that be something!!

If you need some help with any of these concepts or an assessment on your child’s fussy eating, then don’t hesitate to contact me via email

Until next time,

Have fun with mealtimes!


About the author of this blog post

Valerie is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 13 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She opened a private practice called ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ in 2013 that catered for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and special needs and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ via her website and Facebook page SpeechPathology or email her on