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...

Food Allergies and the “Spotlight of Difference”: Guest Post

Children may face eating challenges for various reasons. Children with extreme picky eating tend to experience higher levels of anxiety, around food and in general. Perhaps the most anxiety-provoking feeding challenge that parents face is life-threatening food allergies. Some children with extreme picky eating also struggle with food allergies, which can complicate the picture even further. Kristin Beltaos has made it her mission to help parents and children not just be safer and healthier, but thrive. We were intrigued and impressed with Kristin Beltaos’ work with parents, children, and schools (A Gift of Miles). She has graciously agreed to share some wisdom in our first guest blog post.   1. We are intrigued by your “Spotlight of Difference” TM. Can you tell us more? First off Katja and Jenny, thank you for the opportunity to communicate with you and your followers. Usually when you think of placing a spotlight on a child you think of something positive, i.e., accomplishing an awesome grade, playing a great sport game, writing a wonderful paper or doing well in a recital. These are all great ways to shine a positive spotlight on a child. It’s fascinating how when we are confronted with a challenging situation, such as creating a safe environment for a food allergic child, our initial instinct is to determine how a child will adapt to our environment, rather than how the situation can be modified so that it’s safe for everyone. When we only address the individual child it will almost always create a Spotlight of Difference TM. In our efforts to create safe environments for children with food allergies, parents and schools alike...

Feeding Contraption for Convenience Doesn’t Make the Cut

When I came across this new invention that made it on to Shark Tank recently, my first thought was “huh”. The “Beebo’s industry-leading technology holds your baby’s bottle for you, allowing you to use your free hand without restriction.” When describing what the Beebo does, the biggest draw for parents is that it is “hands-free”.  According to the manual found online, here are some of the perks: “Hands free feeding lets you: Read a book to your baby. Answer the phone. Use the remote.” Digging into what these perks actually mean is what got me, though.  Let’s take them one at a time. Read a book to your baby. Yes, reading to your baby is a good thing. But where are your eyes when you are reading? On the book. NOT on your baby. When you are feeding a baby, especially a newborn, it is very important to pay attention to their cues and signals. Is the flow too fast? Do they need a break? When the bottle is tilted continuously like this contraption does, the baby does not have control over the flow of the milk, so the milk can flow more quickly than your baby can swallow, increasing the risk of choking or aspiration (liquid in the lungs). If the baby falls asleep while the bottle is still in her mouth and you aren’t looking at her (because you are reading a book or looking at the TV/phone), she is at risk for aspiration as well because the milk keeps flowing into her mouth and she isn’t actively swallowing. Making the feeding the priority creates the opportunity to...

Doctors: Support Parents of Children with Picky Eating (from Typical to Extreme)

We were so excited to see this recent article, A Practical Approach to Classifying and Managing Feeding Difficulties (Kerzner et al. 2015) from the Journal of Pediatrics. It does a great job of providing an overview of feeding challenges: underlying factors, screening, red-flags, and a user-friendly format for primary care providers who are the front lines on this issue— most of whom receive little to no training in feeding challenges. This paper provides an excellent overview. Here are our summary points for clinicians: 1) Take every worry and complaint about picky eating seriously before jumping to reassurance. “…pediatricians must take all parental concerns seriously and offer appropriate guidance.” Parents may do well with reassurance and a handout, or they may need a referral to specialist care. You can’t reassure parents without listening to and addressing their concerns. 2) History, physical exam, potential lab tests, and red flags are discussed and help determine severity and what general category challenges fall under: misperceptions of typical variants, low appetite, medical/organic, selective, sensory, fear of feeding, and feeding style. This helps guide referral and treatment. Some sample red flags: using distraction to increase amount eaten, prolonged time at the table, gagging or coughing/choking, significant conflict, history of choking, or forceful feeding. “When it is apparent that a potential feeding difficulty exists, a complete history and physical examination, including carefully done anthropometrics and a brief dietary assessment, are necessary with special attention to serious red flags…” 3) Assess parents’ feeding style by asking parents how feeding is going, what they worry about, what they do if they think a child needs to eat more...

The Art of the Pile-On: Family-Style at It’s Finest

I learned about the “pile-on” from friends at work many years ago—the modern version of a pot-luck, where everyone brings 1-2 ingredients to put together a meal. We usually enjoyed the Mexican Pile-On, with tortillas, chips, ground beef, shredded chicken, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, olives, etc. The “pile-on” is the fun part: everyone gets to choose from all the separate items to build their own taco, burrito, or nachos. With my own kids, the pile-on dinner has become an easy way for me to serve family-style in a manner that suits the very different feeding temperaments of my children. I have expanded this to the “Potato Pile-On”, “Pasta Pile-On”, and “Pancake Pile-On”. I get out lots of toppings and put them all on the table, and am continuously surprised at the “inventions” that my boys make from the offerings. The pasta night includes spaghetti, tortellini, or some other pasta, pesto and tomato sauce, cut up tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and avocados, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, and diced chicken or ground turkey. Pancake pile-on is made up of sweet potato or apple pancakes (I add sweet potato puree or applesauce), various fruit cut up in bowls, yogurt, turkey bacon or apple-cinnamon sausage, gouda or goat cheese, and scrambled eggs. The other night, we had baked potatoes, and my oldest came up with this: My younger son went a completely different way (no surprise there) but ended up with quite the food sculpture! Mine was a more traditional stuffed baked potato with cheese, sour cream, broccoli, and turkey bacon, with the tomatoes and avocados on the side as a...

Moving from GET to LET: Supporting the Child with Picky Eating

“I couldn’t get him to eat anything.” While reviewing the progress of the children in my feeding program with my graduate student clinicians, I hear this type of statement all the time. There is sometimes so much ‘get’ that I have to stop the discussion and tell the students to remove that word from their vocabulary during feeding therapy. Why? The words we say out loud, and even in our own heads, can make a huge difference in how we think and feel about others, ourselves, and our actions. How we behave is influenced by what we’re thinking . . . and words are a direct reflection of our thoughts. Words matter. They shape our thinking and other’s perceptions of our message. They can color a conversation, and can change someone’s mind. Words can drive a wedge between partners or support someone so they can go on to change the world.   Henry Ward Beecher said “All words are pegs to hang ideas on”. If we view words in that way, it can help us to see how our language can make a huge difference in not only how our children react to us, but how WE react to THEM. If you have an agenda and the child isn’t cooperating, your instinct is to do something to GET them to play along. So many parents I work with say the following types of things: “How do I GET her to eat more?” “I can’t figure out how to GET him to drink.” “His doctor said we need to GET 24 ounces in him.” “I just can’t GET him to...

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