Neophobia (Fear Of New Foods) And Your Toddler
Created by Chayanika Sen Updated on Sep 14, 2020
Neophobia refers to reluctance to try new foods. This is said to arise when an infant or toddler refuses to try any new food or exhibits rigidity in trying variety of food items. While mild neophobia may be ignored and considered to fade away as the child grows, greater levels of neophobia may be associated with poor diet quality.
Picky And Fussy Eating Vs. Neophobia
Picky eaters refer to the group of toddlers who are open to consuming only a few selected varieties of food. They express resistance in consuming food, which they may not have liked earlier or which may not appeal to their taste buds. Children suffering from neophobia on the other hand do not want to try anything new. They express reluctance to eat anything that looks different to them from the routine food.
Neophobia - Acting As A Protective Mechanism
While neophobia is seen growing children, it is quite prominent in toddlers and children ranging from two to six years. This is like a “protective mechanism” reinforced by nature to keep this age group away from non-food items, which they are prone to put in their mouth. It helps in keeping growing toddlers away from unsafe and toxic things.
What Are The Causes of Neophobia?
A few causes or reasons leading to neophobia in toddlers have been discussed below.
- Genetics play an important role: Genetics play an important role in food neophobia. Researches have proved about two-thirds of variation in food neophobia may be attributed to genetics
- Psycho-social factors: A child quite closely observes food habits and preferences of his parents and family members. He may develop likings and aversions similar to his parents. Neophobic tendencies may be produced in toddlers by observing paternal food habits and tastes
- Super- taster capabilities: Some children have taste buds, which are more sensitive than average. A particular taste that may not have appealed to their buds earlier may have been in their memory and could have developed into an aversion to try new foods
- Environmental occurrences: Neophobia may sometimes be caused due to certain environmental occurrences. A past experience wherein intake of a new food was associated with food poisoning or subsequent suffering may create a fear in the mind of the toddler
How Can You Treat Neophobia?
The problem of neophobia being experienced by a toddler may actually get exacerbated if he or she is pressurised to eat food they do not want to eat. It is best to adopt these simple practices for handling neophobic rigidities in growing toddlers.
- Offer non-food awards and make it attractive for the child: Children generally give into temptations of new toys, stickers or a cartoon show. It would be a great option to offer any gift or reward if the toddler tries and eats new food varieties
- Try distraction tricks: Toddlers may get distracted if they are involved in their favourite games like play doh or an interesting story book or may be an interesting television show. It is best to feed them with something new at a time when are not looking closely at what they being fed
- Encourage small frequent meals: Toddlers suffering from neophobia generally get nervous and upset at meal times. They may not eat well and may not be gaining weight as per standards. It is thus important to keep giving them small fillings regularly. These could be snacks, which the child is used to or likes
- Repeated exposure and serving of the same food type: More exposure to a particular food item would gradually help a toddler overcome his or her fear regarding consumption of that particular variety. Researches have shown that if a toddler is offered the same food item again and again, he or she may refuse it for ten or fifteen times but an eventual acceptance for it would develop
- Encourage messy play and introduce games with different materials: Toddlers with neophobic tendencies may dislike touch of different textures and materials. Introduce simple games like play with rice, beans, kneaded dough or play doh to expose them to different touches and feels
- Medical help may be sought: In case the child refuses to adapt, he or she may be referred to a paediatrician. The health visitor may consider referring the toddler to a specialist feeding team or clinical physiologist
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