“What do I say when…” Extreme Picky Eating Edition

A big challenge that trips parents up daily is, as one mom put it, “Knowing what to say in the moment.” Sitting across from a child,  parents often feel pulled into those familiar, but counterproductive patterns: the negotiating, bribing, nutrition lectures, sticker charts, or threats around video game time. When the old patterns haven’t worked, but parents aren’t quite sure what to say, we offer some suggestions that: reduce conflict, build relationships, support appetite (anxiety and conflict can kill appetite and curiosity) and make mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone. These “scripts” can be used flexibly and adapted for different situations. We even recommend parents practice some of the phrases. Here are a few that we include in the book with the reasoning behind them. For more thorough discussion of how to transition to responsive feeding and more script examples, check out Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating. One caveat: If you say something like, “We won’t make you try foods anymore,” be sure you are ready to mean it. This is tricky stuff. Learn as much as you can before you jump in, learn about common obstacles and ideas on how to approach them, know what to expect, consider online support (we love the private Mealtime Hostage group) or get help from a responsive feeding professional. These are just suggestions; adapt and find the words that work for you and your child (be responsive). Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Anxiety often plays a big part in extreme picky eating. If it helps your child, begin by slowing down and acknowledging his feelings. “I’m sorry you’re upset about X.” “I...

Find Your Fit: Your Family’s Feeding Therapy Partner

We recently wrote about how different the feeding therapy experience can be and how confusing it is for parents who may be simply handed a referral. One mom who described the eight months her son was in a behavioral feeding therapy program as “traumatic for us both,” was furious to learn that she had options. Her son thrived after a tongue-tie release procedure and responsive therapies that worked on healing his reluctance (worsened by coercive feeding and therapy), supporting appetite and decreasing anxiety. Most of our clients have “failed” months or years of various feeding therapies. Jenny was the 6th feeding therapist for a 3 year old client she worked with recently who made more progress in six weeks than he had in the three previous years. When you don’t know much about a program, and the website uses language that is confusing, or you don’t get a clear idea of what kinds of therapies they offer, you may need to dig further to find out if a therapist or program is a good fit for your family. Here are some questions you can ask and discussion points (link here: Finding Your Feeding Therapy Partner PDF) Of note, these are complex issues, and we go into this in depth in chapter eight in our book, Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating. Sometimes, even if you are contemplating formal therapies, you can make progress at home. We practice Responsive Feeding and Therapies  with our STEPs+ approach (including links if you’d like to learn more). If this is what you are looking for, here are some suggested questions to see if a potential therapist...

A Journey to Healing and Growth: One Mother’s Telling

Bethany’s Journal: Amari’s Journey of Healing   Amari, age two, was adopted at age 14 months from Ethiopia and initially had some hoarding behaviors. After being home for about a year, her eating changed dramatically, with no identifiable cause. While underlying medical causes were being evaluated, Bethany needed help. The following are excerpts from Bethany’s notes and emails on the first few months during the transition from an anxious/pressured feeding relationship to one focused on routine, avoiding pressure, and healing anxiety. This post is largely excerpted from Katja’s first book Love Me, Feed Me,  focused on adoptive and fostering families. Bethany used responsive, trust-based philosophies expanded upon in the STEPS+ approach in our book, Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating. This post is for informational purposes, and not meant to replace care of the individual child.   February 10, day one: A few months ago, she started to get pickier and ate less and less, eventually eating about five bites at each meal and down to two cups of milk a day and gaining nothing. She would pocket and take an hour to finish those bites. In one year home, she grew four inches and gained only nine ounces . . . We saw a nutritionist who told us how to sneak calories into her food. We saw a speech pathologist who determined that the issue was “psych” and barely glanced at her. In the last week, Amari has gotten SO much worse. She hardly drinks 1 and a half cups of milk/day, drinks nothing else, and takes about three bites at meals. I can force feed her more, but she gags constantly and...

Trust Your Turtle: Patience with Picky Eating Progress

Here’s a story I read recently and shared with a client when she asked, “How can I get my daughter to accept new foods on her plate once she’s feeling good about her safe foods? Can’t I just put them on her plate?”   A woman was with her college geology class on a field trip by a river. She noticed a turtle up the river bank near a road and worried that the turtle would get hit by a car. So, she carried the turtle back down the hill and put it in the water. Afterwards, the professor came to her and said, “That turtle has probably spent weeks crawling up the hill to lay her eggs in the muddy slope and now she will have to start all over again.” The moral was, “Ask the turtle first.” (Gloria Steinem from her book, My Life on the Road) (See below our clarification of “ask”. Most children won’t want to be verbally queried along the way. Our moral is to be responsive to your turtle.)    What does this have to do with feeding? Well, many children with extreme picky eating have anxiety around foods, and often have struggled for years. As parents, and even professionals, we hope for and want improvements NOW, or in say,  six weeks. But progress is generally slow, slow, slow, and it might not look like what we think of as “progress” (eating new foods). Sometimes when we miss early signs of progress (less anxiety, eating more safe foods, curious about foods but not yet tasting or eating them...) it is easy to want to rush the process, to pick up our little turtles and carry...

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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