Biggest Parenting Mistakes: Angela

America's Pickiest Eater

"I have a 9-year-old son. He gives us a very hard time, especially when we try to introduce meats and veggies," says Angela. "He cries, lays his head in his hands."

Home video shows her son sitting at the table, uninterested in eating, as 30 minutes go by. Eventually, he is sent to bed.

"His food of choice would be any type of pasta. We've tried sending him to his room without dinner, going to bed early, taking things away. We've done everything," Angela says.

 

Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears joins the show. He's a father of two and the co-host of the hit show, The Doctors. Dr. Sears tells Angela, "My own two kids are actually really, really picky, so I think we've got a lot in common here."

Angela shares the short list of foods her son will eat:

 - Candy, cookies and dessert
 - Every variety of pasta
 - Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
 - Sloppy Joes
 - Hot dogs
 - Apples with peanut butter
 - Grapes
 - Flavored yogurt

[AD]"I feel like we've done everything," she says. "We've made him sit and stare at his plate until midnight " on school nights " and I feel like we can't do that all the time. We've threatened, ‘OK, if you don't eat this, you're going to call your coach.' His sports are very important to him. We've made him go straight to bed. So, of course, that's taking into our family time on a regular basis. This is every day, every day, unless I pick one of those to make for dinner."

 

A poll on BabyCenter.com showed that 51 percent of parents will make a separate meal if their child refuses to eat what is served. Angela says she used to do that.

"Kids are even pickier than adults, so I understand when my son says, ‘Dad, I really don't want to eat this,'" Dr. Sears says. "I don't take it personally. I say, ‘Well, this is what's served. I'm not making you anything else, but feel free, if you want to go make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.'"

Dr. Phil says Angela should pick her battles. He explains that kids control three things: what they take in, what they put out and what they say. "They have a lot of choice in these matters. This is their power. Sometimes we have to fight those battles, but those are three that if you can avoid fighting those, you need to avoid fighting them, right Jim?"

"Yeah, and there are a lot worse things than being a picky eater," Dr. Sears says. He says a peanut butter sandwich made with whole wheat bread and fruit spread is pretty good nutritionally.

Angela says her son is now getting sick of the small list of foods he enjoys and is throwing out lunches he hasn't finished eating, which is wasteful.

"OK, but you're not going to guilt-induce him into liking something," Dr. Phil points out. He addresses Angela's concern that sometimes her son seems too weak to participate in his sports. "That's not from malnourishment. He's not so underfed and undernourished that he can't do it. What you don't want to do is make this a battleground because it foretells an eating disorder. You don't want to make this a huge issue. And I promise you, kids will eat the placemat when they get hungry enough."

Angela wants to know why her son believes that if he tries something new, he's going to be sick. Dr. Phil tells her, "It's probably a reaction to the fact that this had been a battleground, so it's an anxiety response. This kid will start eating. He'll find what he likes, and he'll start eating, and he'll go through this phase of being picky," he says.

[AD]Dr. Sears says if Angela includes her son in preparing the meals, he can choose foods that he will eat.

"If he feels like he has control, there will be less anxiety, there will be less resistance. This has become a battle of wills. You don't want that. You want to disengage from this," Dr. Phil says. "Don't push this battle, OK?"

"OK," she says.