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If you’ve got a picky eater in your house, listen up: Your child might be experiencing depression or anxiety, too.

A study last year found young children who would only eat a limited set of foods were twice as likely to show signs of depression and seven times as likely to exhibit social anxiety.

These children are more sensitive not only to taste but to other input as well.

“These are just sensitive kids; they see things more intently, they feel things more deeply and that’s both in their own internal experience and the world around them. So they have more vulnerabilities to experience taste more vividly, but also more emotions more strongly,” the lead researcher said.

So while it’s easy to get annoyed with a “selective” eater, as scientists say, try to look beyond the behavior to underlying issues. Talk with your child’s doctor about his or her eating patterns and seek psychiatric help if necessary.

As for broadening a child’s palette, here’s what the researcher suggests:

“Don’t make trying new foods happen at dinner or at the family meal time because you really want those to be a safe place. You practice trying new foods like you practice an instrument or like you practice a sport. You find a time after school where you are going to do a food adventure to see what foods taste like.”

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

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