What’s the fuss about? Parent presentations of fussy eating to a parenting support helpline
Holly A. Harris, Bonnie Ria-Searle, Elena Jansen and Karen Thorpe
Objective: To characterise parent presentations of fussy eating and mealtime interactions at a point of crisis, through analyses of real-time recordings of calls to a parenting helpline.
Design: Qualitative analysis included an inductive thematic approach to examine clinical parent presentations of fussy eating and derive underlying themes relating to mealtime interactions.
Setting: Calls made to the Child Health Line regarding feeding concerns were recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Subjects: From a corpus of 723 calls made during a 4-week period in 2009, twelve were from parents of children aged 6–48 months.
Results: Parents of infants (≤12 months, n 6) presented feeding concerns as learning challenges in the process of transitioning from a milk-based to a solid-based diet, while parents of toddlers (13–48 months, n 6) presented emotional accounts of feeding as an intractable problem. Parents presented their child’s eating behaviour as a battle (conflict), in which their children’s agency over limited intake and variety of foods (child control) was constructed as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Escalating parent anxiety (parent concern) had evoked parent non-responsive feeding practices or provision of foods the child preferred.
Conclusions: Real-time descriptions of young children’s fussy eating at a time of crisis that initiated parents’ call for help have captured the highly charged emotional underpinnings of mealtime interactions associated with fussy eating. Importantly, they show the child’s emerging assertion of food autonomy can escalate parents’ emotional distress that, in the short term, initiates non-responsive feeding practices. The current study identifies the importance of educational and emotional support for parents across the period of introducing solids.