#19 - How to Handle Comments About Your Child's Eating

Apr 09, 2023
#19 - How to Handle Comments About Your Child's Eating

Hello! And welcome back to episode #19 of the Food Explores Podcast. I cannot believe we’re ALREADY 19 episodes in. I want to give a big thank you to each and every one of you who has rated and reviewed the podcast, or who has shared it with a friend. I so appreciate you taking the time to help me connect with other families who might be struggling with eating as well, so we can help them bring the magic back into mealtime too! 


Today’s episode is one that has been requested A LOT.


Today we are talking all about how to handle challenging situations with family members - like when they comment on how you feed, discipline, or parent your child. 


I want to start this episode with a little bit of empathy. I know how hard this can be when family members, friends, or even well-meaning strangers make a comment about the way you or your family function. I’ve been on the receiving end of comments like these as well. And it doesn’t feel good. It can leave you feeling judged, protective, and on-edge. And often, it impacts your relationship with that person because it kind of feels like you need to have a wall up to protect yourself. 


But it doesn’t have to be this way, and in this episode I’m going to share a couple tips for handling challenging situations like this.


Before I get into what you can say and how you can respond, I do want to talk a little bit about mindset, where they are coming from, and what may be going on inside your own mind:

  1. The very first thing I think is important to realize is that the majority of the time, these comments are coming from well-meaning individuals who mean to be helpful. It might come from your spouse, grandparents, or friends who believe that they have a better answer for how to help your child. These usually come in the form of “well I did so and so….and YOU turned out fine.” Now, more often than not you’ve already tried those options and they haven’t worked for you. If those worked as easily as everyone thinks, you’d probably already be on your way to ending those mealtime battles (hint: they don’t work well for kids with feeding challenges). 

    Mindset-wise for you, it can be helpful to acknowledge that they are trying to help, and coming from a place of concern. Immediate you might think “UGH why can’t they just mind their own business and let us be?” But I challenge you to counter that by first taking a deep breath - and focus on breathing out (because breathing out is actually what stimulates our body to relax). Then try this conversion in your head instead: “wow, they must really care about my child, and that’s why they are trying to give me suggestions. Those might not work for my family, but it’s so nice that they care so much about us.”

    Is this going to change that their comments aren’t particularly helpful for you? Is it going to change that by giving their comments the situation might be escalating? Not really. But changing to this mindset is going to help you calm down YOUR OWN fight or flight response and body to better handle this situation and respond accordingly.

  2. Next, in order to feel really good about handling and responding to these situations, you need to feel confident in the methods you are taking to help your child. A lot of the time these situations are triggering because you don't feel confident about feeding your child. They kind of make you wonder - am I doing this wrong? So I be forcing them? Should I be doing one bite rules? And so it kind of leaves you spiraling.

    But when you feel confident in the path you are taking and what you are doing to help your child, these comments aren’t quite as impactful, because you know you are taking the best steps to help your personal child.

    So this is when it can be very helpful to join a program or reach out for more personal help to your doctor, or a feeding professional like a OT, speech therapist, or dietician. You can feel more confident about the pathway you’re taking because you’re working with someone who knows how to respond to children who are struggling to eat.

  3. That leads me to point #3. Most of these well-meaning friends and family who offer unsolicited advice have never had or worked with a child with feeding challenges. So it’s really easy to judge someone’s parenting from the outside, when you yourself have never been through it. It’s kind of like how you never thought you would be the parent who “lets your child eat junk food, or have screen time", but then when you’re a parent yourself you understand why people choose to do those things.

    They haven't been in your shoes. They’ve never encountered what you’re going through. And if you know me well, and you’ve been in the "DrSam" community for a while, you know that I don’t believe that feeding challenges are merely caused by parenting choices. USUALLY there is something else going on inside your child’s body that is causing eating to be challenging for them.

    So when they give you advice about how they raised their children, it’s not really apples to apples. It’s more like apples to strawberries - it’s totally different. The methods that worked for them likely aren’t going to work the same way for you. And that’s ok. They’re coming from a different place, with different experiences.

  4. You need to know your boundaries. Before you can respond, you need to sit down and really think. What are my boundaries? Do I want to talk to family members about this for support? Do I not want my child’s eating to be mentioned to me at all? When you're wishing washy about your boundaries it leads to confusion, and often more fighting. So you need to be clear on what your boundaries are, so you can draw set this boundary with your family.

    Sidenote: I know the boundary talk can be really challenging. J.R. and I recently had to draw some boundaries with family - that honestly we should have done WAY earlier, but we were scared to because we didn’t want to ruin the relationship. But what surprised us was that when we set our boundaries with them, and consistently kept to it, our relationship with them got better - because we were way less annoyed with them, and the triggering situation for us, no longer came up. Did it happen overnight no? Was it easy no? Did they get upset? A little, but J.R. and I approached it as a team and it helped us improve our relationship with them overall.


Alrighty…now HOW can you respond in these situations? How can you say this in a firm, but gentle way?! Well, let’s break this down into an actual situation.

  • You’re at a family barbecue at your sister-in-law’s house, and your mother in-law comes over to talk to your child. She tells your son or daughter that “they need to eat their vegetables”, and tries to put a couple on your child’s plate. When they react and say “I DON'T WANT THAT” she responds with - "OH YOU’RE SO PICKY. If it was my house I would…"
  • Or here’s another example - you’re getting ready for family dinner, and you pull a special meal out of your bag for your child, because you know they absolutely will not eat anything at the bbq. Your sister sees this and comments “why did you bring food with you? We have so much food here!" When you explain to her why, she tells you that you need to stop catering to your child, and they just need to learn to eat what is served to them.


These are two scenarios that happen pretty commonly with the families I work with.


Now what are some ways we can handle these? First, again take that breathe. When your body goes straight into fight or flight, which most likely in these situations it will, it’s hard to appropriately and calmly respond.


Then, there are a couple different things I like to say in response. These aren’t going to work well for everyone (and some family members might still get offended), but consider if one of these might be helpful to you:

  1. "Please don’t comment on my child’s eating in front of them. In fact, we prefer not to talk about their eating habits at all. Everyone has their own food preference, and we are working toward creating a happy and healthy relationship with food."
  2. "Thank you for your concern, but that actually doesn’t work for our family. We are learning from a professional who specializes in feeding, and appreciate your support."

  3. "We’re still learning to eat new foods, I appreciate you respecting how our family has decided to work on this."

  4. "I’m SO glad that worked for you or your family, but children who struggle to eat, like ____, need some more support. We’ve done our research, and this is approach we have chosen to follow."

  5. I love that you care so much about me and my child. I’m already focusing on the eating portion, but I would love for you to spend some time with them doing _____." (Choose something that you think would really make your child happy.) "That would be so helpful for me, and I know they would love it." 

  6. "I know you have a ton of food here, and it looks so awesome. I excited to try everything. Once day I know my child will be too. But right now they need this extra support to help them feel safe at the table. Thank you so much for understanding, and for your support. I’m so happy we get to spend this special day together."

So I think you get the gist here, but I like to kindly and firmly state my boundary in a gentle way. Now I do think it’s important to recognize - many people will get upset when you set your boundaries, and enforce them.

But here’s what I like to remember. First - it’s ok for you to be upset about a comment that is made to you. Family might try to tell you you’re being too sensitive or overreacting, but no, it is ok for you to feel however you feel, your feelings are valid. Second - it’s ok for them to be upset. When someone enforces a boundary with us, it doesn’t usually feel good. We get a little defensive and even upset that we may have hurt someones feelings, and a little hurt ourselves that they don’t want our advice or opinion. Remember, their feelings are valid too, and it’s ok for them to be upset - but it’s not ok for them to cross your boundaries if they want to continue a happy relationship with you and your child.


So, I’m not saying this is definitely the way to go, or that these will 100% work with your family, but these are ones that I have found personally to be helpful. 


I would love to know what you thought of this episode, and how you personally handle these situations with your family. So head over to @DrSamGoldman on Instagram and send me a DM. I would just love to hear from you.

I’ll see you over there! 



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