“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...

Facilitating (Not Forcing) Your Child’s Eating (Extreme Picky Eating Edition)

“I’m not forcing, I’m just aggressively facilitating…” I was watching a show on Netflix* when I caught this line, “I’m not forcing, I’m just aggressively facilitating.” My ears perked at the words facilitation and force, and of course made me think of children with extreme picky eating, of feeding, and the “aggressive facilitation” that can sometimes happen, even in feeding therapies. There is much research that suggests that when children are pressured or coerced to eat, overall intake, and intake of fruits and veggies decreases.  Here are a few examples… “…approximately half of all mothers and a greater proportion of fathers… ignore the child’s hunger signals and may use force, punishment, or inappropriate rewards to coerce the child to eat. These practices initially appear effective, but become counterproductive, resulting in poor adjustment of energy intake, consumption of fewer fruits and vegetables, and a greater risk of under- or overweight.” (Kerzner 2015) “…stringent parental controls can… limit children’s acceptance of a variety of foods and disrupt children’s regulation of energy intake by altering children’s responsiveness to internal cues of hunger and satiety.” (Brown & Ogden, 2004) Pressure to eat likely disrupts child’s ability to respond to internal cues of hunger and satiety (Carper et al., 2000) Pressure to eat … “exacerbate feeding problems and make mealtimes more negative for both parent and child.” (Harris 1992; Skuse 1993) Pressuring strategies could be implicated in the development and persistence of these problems (Farrow & Blissett, 2008) Pressure to eat predicted food avoidance behaviors: slow eating, emotional undereating, satiety responsiveness (Powell 2011) Parent prompts assoc w/ food avoidant behaviors, correcting for child emotionality and maternal...

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...

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