Remember when you were a child and you gagged at the sight of the sliminess of a soft-boiled egg, or pushed away from that shaky Jello? This is normal picky eating, and nothing to worry about; it is just the kind of picky eating we have all experienced at one time or another.

On the other hand, picky eating can be a sign of something more serious. If your child is severely picky in her eating habits, she may be signaling to you that there is a psychological problem that needs to be addressed.

Picky Eating Red Flags

Children who consistently turn away from typical foods such as fruits, vegetables, and proteins, may be oversensitive in their experience of smell and sight. They also may be displaying psychological issues, such as anxiety, ADD, ADHD, depression, obsessive compulsion, or personality disorder, and a portal into your picky eater’s world is her social interaction with her peers.

For example: is she socially shy? Does she isolate herself from others? Does she demonstrate anxiety around groups of children? These are all red flags to look for when identifying a picky eater with a problem.

If this is your child, you should first speak to your pediatrician, and if necessary, allow him to recommend a mental health professional. In the meantime, be sure your child maintains a healthy weight and growth pattern, and pay attention to ways in which you can support your child socially.

Interestingly enough, many severely selective eaters have parents who are themselves battling mental health issues, such as eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsion.

There may, in fact, be a link to food aversion and these other areas of mental health. Further, there can also be an issue with sensory processing, and your highly picky eater may just be too sensitive to internal and external stimulation, such as smells, sight and texture.

How To Help Your Picky Eater

So what can you do to help your picky eater?

To begin with, remain calm and remember that your child takes her cue from you. Because anxiety is a part of picky eating, it is important not to pressure your child, or stress her over eating… for, in all emotional issues, stress can be a huge component. In some cases, highly selective eaters outgrow much of their aversion and enhance their food repertoire as they grow older.

As a savvy parent, it is necessary to teach your child stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, creative visualization, and breathing strategies to lower anxiety and enhance a state of peacefulness around meal time.

Next, communication with your child using my empathic process will invest your child in the process of her eating likes and dislikes, while also reasserting her sense of control. If your child is dealing with an obsessive compulsive issue, anxiety, depression, ADD, and so on, then control becomes an important tool in helping her self-manage her eating problem. Positive adjustments can occur over time if you allow your child a safe space in which to be seen, heard, and understood. Active listening during the empathic process will allow both you and your child to come up with a variety of foods that your child finds acceptable, and that you find to be healthy.

In the final analysis, the good news is: if your child is an extremely selective eater, she may be telling you that there are other problems afoot, which gives you a wonderful opportunity to have a head start supporting your child, whether through professional intervention or greater communication at home. This is a win-win situation. It’s a great opportunity for you to build a strong and healthy relationship and become a lifelong ally to your child.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.