Confessions of a Mommy Feeding Therapist

Working with families who struggle to feed their children on a daily basis, I often hear, “Your kids must be great eaters!” or “I bet you don’t have any trouble at the table with your kids!”.  Well, let me tell you, it isn’t quite that simple. As a feeding therapist, I am confident that what I am suggesting to parents will at least help, and not hinder, their child’s progress with eating. When I am working with someone else’s child, I can see their issues objectively. That makes it fairly easy to navigate next steps and to tease apart what may be going wrong. I have done loads of research and reading on the topic, wrote a book, and provide therapy for children from newborns to teenagers. I do trainings for other therapists, physicians, and students. So you would think I would have all the answers with my own three kids, right? Not so much. At home, things are a little more complicated. Do my kids sit at the table and eat at most meals? Yes. Are mealtimes a beautifully harmonious experience where all three of my children eat complicated dishes with a smile on their face? Hasn’t happened yet- I am still waiting. So what does a feeding therapist’s family mealtime actually look like?  Here is a window into my world: Setting:  We eat at our kitchen table for all meals, using family-style serving. I do a lot of “pile-on” and deconstructed meals and we don’t pre-plate the kids’ food. I work full-time and the kids have lots of activities, so our meals are fairly simple, and I get take-out about once a week....

Navigating Relational Feeding in a Medically-Minded World: When Calories Aren’t the Whole Picture

For many families, weekly (sometimes daily) doctor and therapy appointments are the norm rather than the exception. They strive to make everything fit into the schedule, because doing so keeps their child “well”- or at least not sick- and hopefully making medical or developmental gains due to professional, sometimes intensive intervention.  This may be a temporary scenario, or not. For parents of chronically ill or medically fragile children, every day begins with a status check: Is he running a fever? Is she going to hold down her feeds today? Did I give her all of her meds on time? Why is he doing X? Then on to the scheduling and phone calls- to the doctor’s office to sign a request for records to be sent to the out-of-state specialist, to the insurance company to fight yet another battle about payment for the child’s numerous procedures and office visits. For the parents who live this reality, it can be mind-numbing and terrifying all at once. Having a child who is well is the exception rather than the rule. Being truly well, however, is not the same as not being sick. For many kids, they have never been truly “healthy”, as the WHO states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” What about these situations in otherwise “healthy” children? the baby who screams every time she sees a bottle, but takes a small amount when it is forced into her mouth the toddler who throws up at least once a day after being fed the preschooler who exists on Pediasure because he doesn’t...

Childhood Fears: Food or Fluffy, the Fear is Real

When M was little she had a dog phobia. I’m talking screaming, climbing on me, uncontrollable fear of even a toy poodle.  I can’t count how many people tried to talk her out of her fear, usually with a dog thrust into her personal space, and often against my explicit requests for them to stop. Take the German shepherd owner whose dog was off-leash, jumping on me while M clawed at my hair shrieking, and the owner kept smiling, “Oh, she won’t hurt you! She’s very gentle.” Well-intentioned dog owners (including friends and family) would bring dogs closer, insisting the dog wasn’t scary and everyone loved the dog, and, “Stop being so silly!” (super helpful)  or, “Look, Timmy is younger than you, and he’s petting the doggie!” (Throw some shame in while you’re at it! Works every time!)  I wish we could have had a sign at those times that said, “Seriously afraid of dogs. Back off. It’s not your job to get my kid over her fears…” It is this sticker that I saw on my walk home that led to this post. If I was behind a car on a hill and it started rolling, I might get mad or honk. But with this sign (Kid Driver   Manual), I know it’s a young person who is learning and I’ll be more patient. This sign reminds us to cut this kid driver some slack; have a little patience and understanding (something I struggle with behind the wheel sometimes). Of course it made me think of kids learning to eat. Imagine the child with extreme picky eating who only takes crackers at...

Ask, “What’s Important Now” (WIN) to Help Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating

I was at a conference recently speaking about ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder) with folks who treat eating disorders and some who provide early feeding support in the community. When I can, I reserve a chunk of time for discussion and Q and A– for selfish reasons, partly.  I almost always come away with some new tip, story, or information that has tremendously shaped my work over the years. I had mentioned research that dads tend to pressure children more with eating, and boys tend to be more pressured. (Our theory is that if boys fall on the smaller side of the growth curve, the tendency is to try to get them to eat more to be ‘big and strong.’ Boys also make up a higher percentage of children with extreme picky eating.) Anecdotally, Jenny and I find that more fathers than mothers tend to struggle with letting go of rules and pressure; one area in particular is manners. One attendee talked about her rural area where there are a lot of fathers who are in the military, and that she observes that these dads seem more insistent on rules, order, and compliance with manners. For one family struggling with extreme picky eating, there are many mealtime battles around trying to get the kids to eat with elbows off the table, knives and forks held a certain way, not too loud, all asking to be excused only after everyone has finished… The fighting about manners adds to the tension and conflict over who is eating what and how much. The first STEP when we work with parents (and in our book)...

The Manners Monster: 5 Tips for Taming the Beast at the Table

Do you ever find yourself wanting to pull out your hair at mealtimes because your children’s manners are atrocious? I do. From my almost-tween putting his feet on other people’s chairs and sitting sideways while he eats, to my second son burping loudly and using his hands to eat, to my preschooler throwing her food at her brothers (among other things). Sigh. It is a daily occurrence, and it requires even the most Zen of parents to dig deep for that calm place. I find myself asking my husband, “Are we raising a brood of Neanderthals?” But, we aren’t (even though I could swear it at times!). We are raising children, and they are not little adults. They don’t have the social awareness to know that their behavior isn’t appropriate, and it is up to us to gently guide them so they won’t end up being shunned from social gatherings. However, even though we know what the end goal is, there are considerations when we are talking about the acquisition of manners. Much of what seems like bad manners may actually be typical development, or may help children with sensory issues learn about their food. Using hands instead of utensils is normal as little ones explore the physical properties of their food and gain skills with utensils. They may switch back and forth for a while, depending on what type of food it is, how hungry they are, and what their experience and comfort is with that particular food. There is also the possibility that your child actually can’t help it. Consider the elementary-aged child who was constantly told to chew with her mouth closed; she finally was able to...

Picky Eating Progress Reports: Spirited 3 1/2 year-old

Sharing one mom’s early successes (and tips) with her son with extreme picky eating. My 3.5 year old and I needed some help. I read your book, Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating and started the process this past Friday. While reading the book I realized how emotional I have been about our struggle with food. My husband was on board when I told him about it. My family said they’d be respectful and help. My son’s daycare already operates just as your book describes. While I teared up several times while reading the book, as it so closely related to my sense of failure, it gave me hope to try something new. He is developmentally fine, but is spirited and strong willed. The struggles seemed to be escalating and I was ready for help. Since starting last Friday (one week of trying) things have already gotten so much better!!! I started our dinners new with all glass serving dishes so he can see the food. Changed the placemats and put flowers on the table so I felt like it was a fresh start. Since starting STEPs+ he helped make blueberry pancakes (winced when the blueberries came out, but I wanted them so I stayed the course) and then at the table he put one on his plate!!!! He has watched me eat cherries (many times) acting as if he’s not watching. Today he asked if I eat the stem. When the dessert is on the table he eats a bit of it, but goes to his safe foods and eats them instead. His asking for crackers has almost...

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