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Parenting’s no longer fun: bringing up bébé to be picky AND tiresome

March 11, 2012 1 comment

LEARNING TO WAIT patiently until meal time and getting good and hungry, as French children learn to do makes everything taste good. - photo of a French potluck by Anna Migeon

American moms find being around their own children twice as disagreeable as French mothers do, research shows.

We Americans would rather do housework than tend our own little darlings, according to Pamela Druckerman, in her recent Wall Street Journal article “Why French Parents are Superior.”  Druckerman is also the author of the just-out Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

To rub more salt in our American parenting misery, I will add that just because we are self-sacrificially wretched for the sake of our children is no guarantee we’re doing a good job as parents. It may mean just the opposite.

We American parents would do well to remember that how we feel dealing with our kids is probably about how other people will feel dealing with them, now and later, just without the parental affection.

There’s a cycle I observe of American kids who are both picky eaters and badly behaved at the table; it seems to come as a package deal. It’s the opposite of the cycle we can see with French kids. As Druckerman describes, they eat and they behave. The American cycle is bad for kids and bad for anybody around them. How can we break the cycle?

Out of control while over-controlled

Marlena’s kids screamed like banshees, unchallenged, for what they wanted. They also snacked, unrestricted, on junk food all day long. But when it came time for dinner, Mom hovered, micro managed and pressured them over every bite, while they resisted.

“Two bites of fish before you can have another tomato,” she’d say, or “Three bites of meat before you can have your dessert,” or “You have to clean your plate before you can leave the table.”  The parents managed to ride the pendulum from over-parenting to under-parenting and back, all in the course of a meal. No one was enjoying themselves much.

The kids were resistant to good food because of the parents’ relentless urging to eat it, not to mention they weren’t hungry, due to snacking on bad food all day.  They were generally eating and doing whatever they felt like doing, or n’importe quoi, just as the French so often accuse American kids of doing, according to Druckerman.

Two Sides to the Same Dysfunctional Coin

This nonchalance where we should be strict, and arm-twisting where we should give children freedom, seem to come in one package like two sides of the same coin or the poles on a magnet. It’s a chain reaction. One part unravels and the rest tends to follow.  Parenting isn’t much fun for these parents, I notice.

Children who become used to getting whatever they want and accustomed to having those around them drop everything to serve them tend to become nobody’s favorite classmate, co-worker or family member. Children who get to eat junk food while being pushed to eat what their parents want them to eat generally eat pretty poorly. Two sides of the same coin again. More general lack of joy.

Yet, if we reverse the negative and positive charges, it can all work beautifully. The pattern of bad eating and bad behavior can be overturned by insisting on agreeable behavior at the table, which is enforced by restricting access to food if they misbehave, which is in turn reinforced by hunger that is caused by lack of random snacking.  The appetite, like a mighty river, is going to flow, but it doesn’t have to be the master. It can be directed to be your servant, and your children’s servant, by giving freedom within bounds, and no freedom outside of bounds.

I know how brutal it sounds, but it can and should all be done sweetly and gently, yet firmly: for the children’s sakes and for the sake of all those who must be around those children, including those children’s parents. What’s good for them is good for us.

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Push or Pull: When picky kids pick your dinner to pieces

How to get kids to eat at the table: The Push-Pull Principle

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Is your child a picky eater or a problem feeder?

THERAPY exists for children who have problems such as transitioning to solids food and textures. Is your child just a picky eater or a problem feeder? - photo by Anna Migeon

Could your child benefit from professional therapy to solve her eating problems?  Did you know such therapy exists? Some children are just picky, but others have more serious problems that can be related to development or physical problems.  These problems can be addressed through special pediatric therapy.

Toomey & Associates of the SOS Approach to Feeding (Sequential-Oral-Sensory) provides these signs that your child’s problems are bigger than just pickiness:

Red Flags

  • Eats less than 20 foods, especially if she stops eating food and never accepts it again
  • Not gaining normal weight
  • Choking, gagging or coughing during meals
  • Vomiting
  • Nasal reflux
  • History of traumatic choking
  • History of problems coordinating breathing and eating
  • Crying at meals
  • The child doesn’t eat any better anywhere or for anyone
  • The child avoids all foods in a texture or food group
  • The child is unable to:

1.  Transition to food purees by 10 months

2.  Accept any table food solids by 12 months

3.  Transition to a cup from breast or bottle by 16 months

If you think you have a problem eater, ask your doctor about options for therapy.

***

Related posts:

Serious Reasons Not to React to a “Picky” Toddler

Three Bad Tips for Feeding Hypersensitive, Orally Defensive or Sensory Processing Disordered Children

Another source for solving feeding problems: Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems and Expand Your Child’s Diet

How to Get the Picky Eater to Eat: in the Woods or in the Pasture?

March 2, 2012 5 comments

Young children, like sheep, need some shepherding for their own good and their parents'. - photo by Anna Migeon

 

Getting kids motivated to eat is a lot like getting sheep to eat.

If sheep are allowed to run free in the woods, they are in danger. When they get hungry there, they will probably eat something harmful instead of the right things. Not much good grass in the woods.

The sheep might even fall in a hole or off a cliff, or be terrorized by a rushing stream. They could be eaten by a wolf, run over by a car, or shot by a hunter.

So the shepherd watches over the sheep and places them within limits. The shepherd selects the best pasture of green grass he can find, and builds a fence around it. He gently lures his sheep in and closes the gate.

If the sheep are safely fenced in a pasture of only good green grass, the sheep will naturally eat the grass. No one tries to force a sheep to eat because it would only become alarmed and struggle away. No one need interfere with their eating, because they’re hungry and green grass is all that’s available. It’s the best thing for the sheep and they do like it. They love eating it if they haven’t filled up or gotten sick on thistles and weeds in the woods. They only need to be allowed to eat, with no interference. It’s like water flowing down a hill. It just goes.  The sheep are content and secure in the pasture.`

Likewise young children, if their access to food is not limited, will eat the wrong things, not be hungry for the right things, and be at risk of numerous threats to their well being.

Out in the woods, we find dangers that deteriorate the chances of children eating well:

  • Random snacking
  • Kids without an appetite at meals
  • Battles at the table
  • Food resistance and refusal
  • Fear of new foods and being forced to eat
  • Bad behavior is tolerated in hopes kids will eat
  • Parents have no way to make kids behave
  • Junk food and sugar cravings
  • Parents comprising on what they let kids eat so they will eat
  • Kids treasure dessert and see meals mainly as the means to that end
  • Parents pressure, bribe, bargain, beg and plead in attempt to motivate kids to eat
  • Sleep problems
  • Health problems (tooth decay, obesity, diabetes…)
  • The attitude that we HAVE to eat

So what are the fence posts we can build to create the structure our children need to be motivated to eat when and what they should?

  • Eating restricted to mealtimes and snack time only
  • Eating restricted to the table only
  • No random snacking
  • A wide variety of foods served
  • Parents choosing the best foods for their children
  • Only good choices at the table
  • Children decide freely how much they want to eat of everything
  • No pressure to eat anything ever
  • Kids are hungry for meals and eat willingly and happily: healthy hunger alone motivates them
  • Kids make sure they eat enough at meals because they know they won’t have anything till the next time at the table
  • Good table manners & behavior or kids aren’t allowed to stay at the table and eat
  • Good conversation at the table
  • The attitude that we GET to eat

So is your child in the woods or in the pasture?  Many families seem to be clearly in one or the other. What if kids don’t want to go in that pasture, with limits and restraints? We want them to be free adventurers, not mindless followers—like sheep! Don’t we?

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Related posts:

Duty Made Lovely: How to Train a Child’s Appetite

Foundations of Appetite Training: 12 Ways Children Learn to Like or Dislike Healthy Eating

Solution for Picky Eaters: PediaSure, Why Not?

November 9, 2011 4 comments

I just learned of the existence of PediaSure. Apparently it’s been around for at least ten years, but I just discovered it, seeing one of its commercials for the first time. I’m chagrined, but shouldn’t be surprised, to learn that such a thing exists.

There may be some justifiable use of this product, though it’s hard for me to imagine any. For a child who is physically or mentally ill or has genuine, physical sensory problems, I’ll suspend judgment for now.

If it’s for the typical picky child, though, PediaSure is a “solution” that offers false security while aggravating the problem of pickiness in a child. It’s a child’s solution to the problem, not a wiser parent’s solution.

PediaSure will resolve the root problems of pickiness about as well as giving in to a terrorist’s demands or giving a child the candy bar he’s throwing a fit for in the store. It’s rather like providing money for the addict to get a fix instead of doing the tough love thing. PediaSure takes advantage of a parent’s fear and lack of understanding. It’s no solution at all. It perpetuates the cycle. It’s an enabler.

The commercial is infuriating. In the grocery store, a little girl is shown challenging her mom to a battle. As Mom puts real food in the cart, the child tells her, “I don’t like broccoli,” and “I don’t like chicken.” She doesn’t even think she likes waffles. She’s a hard case.

For the first few scenes, I’m pleasantly surprised by the mom. She doesn’t argue with the kid; she keeps her reactions to a minimum. She doesn’t give in. She buys all the items anyway. So far, so good. She could win this thing.

As for the child, that little cutie is an outstanding actress; she has that genuine expression of a picky kid: “And what are you gonna do about it, Mom? Am I gonna win here, or are you? Can I get you to worry and cater to me? Do I get to be the Fussy Princess, or will it fall flat?”

It’s a richly layered acting performance: a kid pretending to be a kid who’s pretending to be terribly picky, just to manipulate her mom. She manages to convey it all. But the child and the mom look so much alike, maybe the little darling and her mom are just being themselves. It’s so lifelike that I suspect this may not be a dramatization, but just another trip to the store with a real mom and daughter.

Then we find out why Mom isn’t worried about her picky eater. She has an ace in her pocket. She has taken it all very seriously and knows what to do. PediaSure is on her shopping list. Her child has the condition of pickiness, for which PediaSure is the cure. She considers her problem solved.

But Mom loses the game at that point. She has given in to her child’s silliness out of fear of the unmanageable little sweetheart, who smiles in triumph.

At home, the mom gives the glass of PediaSure to the girl, watching in deep satisfaction, as if she had finally gotten food for her starving child, who is still strong enough to down it before falling into an irreversible coma: “At last, I found something that will keep her body and soul together.” The girl looks pleased at winning the battle and having a nice, sugary drink. Such joy all around.

“Help fill the holes in your picky eater’s diet with PediaSure,” the manufacturer assures us. It’s all so simple. The mom rests secure that the child is getting the nutrients needed to thrive.

Her little angel is not learning to eat real food, and a decided preference for sweets will be reinforced with every glug of one of those “kid approved” PediaSure flavors. But at least she’ll survive for now.

This commercial illustrates what’s really happening with the average “picky eater.”  The typical picky kid has learned how to defend herself against parental pressure and urging at the table. I don’t blame the child. As obnoxious as she is, her response is normal. The mom’s reaction are the crux of the matter. Her intentions are good, but she needs real help. I’m sure she has her reasons. She clearly doesn’t know any better. She’s listened to lots of advice. But she needs understanding. Change her tactics and everything can change.

Kids are picky eaters because it works for them somehow. They get attention, they feel special, they find an identity as a “picky eater” that serves them. They like making Mom cater to them. They like being able to control Mom and get her to react, and being able to refuse. It all probably began when the girl was a toddler; she experimented with testing her limits and resisting food, and her mom fell right into it. Mom’s reactions created the current situation.

It’s no wonder the little girl won’t be hungry for any actual food when Mom serves that chicken and broccoli at dinner time. She’s filled up on PediaSure. But even if she hadn’t, she’s the type of kid that really cares about winning a battle of wills with Mom. She seems ready to go to extremes to have the last word. Some kids are like that. If Mom hadn’t ever started pushing her daughter to eat and hadn’t allowed herself to be drawn in to fighting with her over food, the girl would get no satisfaction out of being picky. She and Mom would find something to fight about, certainly, but not about food.

As for the makers of PediaSure, they may be perfectly aware of what they’re doing and are cynically laughing at us all the way to the bank. Or maybe they sincerely believe they are providing an excellent product that really meets the consumer’s needs. Either way, don’t fall for it.

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‘Duty Made Lovely’: How to Train a Child’s Appetite

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

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L’appetit est la conscience du corps (The appetite is the conscience of the body).

— Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

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DUTY MADE LOVELY describes the real Pollyanna, and a good mushroom soup.

When my children were about six and eight, we listened to the original Pollyanna story on tape. Unlike the caricature of Pollyanna as a ridiculously blind optimist, we found the real Pollyanna to be charming and delightful. I was surprised and pleased to find that she managed to inspire us and stir our hearts by her sweetness. “We can be glad of that!” she would say. We still quote her, 14 years later. We all loved Pollyanna and her story.

Pollyanna and many other literary or real-life heroes are perfect examples of what educational reformer Charlotte Mason (1846-1923) called “duty made lovely” that can inspire a child’s conscience to love goodness.

A child’s conscience is not an “infallible guide,” according to Mason, but rather an “undeveloped capacity” to be trained and instructed through such examples.

In training the conscience of a child, she advised, give them “lovely examples of loving kindness that will fire their hearts with the desire to do likewise.”

The child’s appetite, like the conscience, is trained by example, lovely or otherwise, to lead him to right or wrong.

A Bad Example: Dutiful Eating

Of course we parents know we are the primary example for our children. But eating dutifully against our will is a bad example. It teaches kids that duty is anything but lovely. I’m not sure that dutiful eating is any better than just eating junk and enjoying it. At least you’d be enjoying yourself. In either case, the child is taught to see healthy food as unlovely.

A parent’s enjoyment of healthy food is the only good example:  duty made lovely and lovable.

I absolve you: If you don’t like mushrooms, don’t eat them. Don’t try to be an example by saying, “Look Kaylee, I don’t like mushrooms, but I am eating them because they’re good for me.” A far better example is finding a way to sincerely enjoy mushrooms. Then you can say, “Kaylee, I used to not like mushrooms either, but I tried several different recipes, and I’m excited about this soup I just made. It’s really good!”

Duty Made Delicious

That tasty mushroom soup itself is another example of duty made lovely. A delicious dish made with healthy foods is the best example in the world. It’s the loveliness — not the duty — of the experience that warms the child’s heart toward the good.

One day at the Pearl Brewery Farmers Market, I saw a lady come up to the mushroom stand and ask for two mushrooms.

“I don’t like mushrooms, but they’re good for me,” she told the vendor. “So I put them in the blender with other stuff so I can’t taste them.”

I wondered why she bought the most expensive ones, the fancy $11 a pound ones. I wanted some of those, and more than two. I got the cheap ones. She might as well have swallowed a pill to get her nutrients.

How sad for her, with so many luscious ways to eat mushrooms. How sad, when duty can be so lovely.  And of that, we can be glad.

***

Related posts:

The Best Way to a Kid’s Stomach is through the Heart: How to Use Kids’ Emtions to Form or Deform the Appetite

Foundations of Appetite Training: 12 Ways Children learn to Like or Dislike  Healthy Eating

Conventional Wisdom Versus the Truth about Why Kids Won’t Eat their Vegetables

The Inclusive Cavemen: You Gotta Love It

It Doesn’t Matter if She Likes Broccoli, as Long as She Eats It. Or Does It?

The Best Way to a Kid’s Stomach is Through the Heart: How to Use Kids’ Emotions to Form or Deform the Appetite

October 10, 2011 5 comments

CHILDREN WILL PUT ANYTHING in their mouths if they expect to enjoy the experience. Photo by Anna Migeon

“L’appetit est la conscience du corps.”  (The appetite is the conscience of the body)

— Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo

If “the appetite is the conscience of the body,” a child’s appetite is, in theory, able to lead him to eat what is good and avoid what is bad.

The problem is that kids are born with raw, unformed appetites along with immature, uninstructed consciences.

A child “is born to love the good and to hate the evil, but he has no real knowledge of what is good and what is evil, . . . but yields himself to the steering of others,”  states educational reformer Charlotte Mason.

Kids are like freshly hatched ducklings; they follow the first moving object they see. They accept as good whatever they’re given or whatever is presented as good. Then they start deciding what is good based on past experience. They learn to listen to or to disregard their inborn consciences or appetites according to how those forces are developed.  Both kinds of conscience begin to be informed or malformed from our first moments.

From the first time a baby’s appetite leads him to latch onto the breast, with no training at all, his impressions of happiness and satisfaction and desirability are being shaped.

Babies will put anything in their mouth, from poison berries, bugs and dirt to the dog’s tail to their own feet. It’s our job to help them learn from their experiences and to come to know the good from the bad, to avoid eating the rocks and other hazards that will be presented as food along the way.

So how can we develop the potential of a child’s appetite?  Apparently it is an extremely simple matter. 

In a Dateline show sometime back, children of about four years of age were presented with various pairs of choices of what they would prefer for breakfast or in their lunchbox.

Beginning with the choice between a plain cupcake or one with an American flag up against a cupcake with spiderman’s or cookie monster’s face on it, children almost invariably choose the option with cartoon characters.

The chocolate cupcake with the cartoon face was “better than” the chocolate cupcake without.

When a banana with Scooby Doo stickers was introduced up against a cupcake,  bananas were suddenly “my favorite.”

Even when the choices was between a rock with Nemo stickers on it or a plain banana for breakfast or in their lunchbox, the children chose the rock.

See how easily kids are led? They’re so easy to trick and sway and take advantage of. Marketers know that. So do Scandinavians, whose laws forbid marketing to children.

Kids respond to offers with their own brand of logic, reacting emotionally to what they know and like, whether it has anything to do with food or not. They aren’t very analytical. They don’t care what’s better for them or whether it actually would taste better because of the character’s face on it or even if it’s edible. Open-minded to a fault, their tastes are far from discriminating. They couldn’t explain how a character’s face makes food taste better, but for them, it does. They form their opinions of what’s good based on what has given them happiness in the past.

A child’s appetite is so easily taught to value certain foods, though the emotions, the most basic way that a child develops her conscience or appetite.

So why is it such a struggle for parents to get kids to eat what we want them to eat? That we are up against junk food with cartoon characters on it is one reason. That does make things hard.

When our society finally becomes civilized, making junk food attractive to children will be outlawed. Or maybe before that, people will wise up sufficiently about the ill effects of junk food that the market will dry up and manufacturers will go out of business. Parents in the meantime have the option to shelter their children from exposure to advertising by restricting TV time and keep them away from foods that are packaged with cartoon images.

But we also have yet another option. Why not use the qualities of enjoyment and fun to sell our kids on good food?

Why should we hesitate to leverage the simplicity of children’s minds in ways that that will benefit them? I’m not proposing making salad into the shape of Sponge Bob, which is unnecessary, contrived, silly, and way too much work.

I’m talking about using other things kids enjoy: warm attention from their parents and siblings, stories, conversation, being listened to, satisfying their hunger, orderliness and comforting routine balanced with variety and novelty, having autonomy and being respected, also colors and shapes, good smells, good tastes.

See how easy it is? If we can even get kids to eat a rock if it’s just presented as fun and we give them experiences of enjoyment around the rock, surely we can get them to eat actual tasty food when they’re hungry if presented in a pleasant atmosphere.

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Coming next: “Ways children learn to associate healthy eating with positive or negative emotions.”

Another Bad Tip for Feeding the Hypersensitive, Orally Defensive or Sensory Processing Disordered Child

November 30, 2010 1 comment

HYPERSENSITIVE or Orally Defensive children are not your typical picky eaters. — photo by Anna Migeon

In my last post, we looked at Amy, one of those children generally considered to be on the autism spectrum, with neurological and physiological causes for being a picky eater.   Amy was diagnosed as “hypersensitive to oral input” or “orally defensive.”

Such children should be under the supervision of a doctor to make sure that their nutritional needs are met. But as with all children who resist eating, the family dynamics and relationship around eating can either aggravate the problems, or ease them.

Amy’s parents do their best to get her to eat. Most recommendations they’ve been given for getting their hypersensitive child to eat involve various forms of pressure and urging. The more desperate they are to get her to eat, the more she digs in her heels, saying her throat “feels swollen up.”

If pressuring your child to eat doesn’t work very well, as it doesn’t with Amy, doing more of the same probably won’t work any better. It may be time to try something completely different.

Bad Tip #4: “Praise her for trying or eating things.”

What could be wrong with affirming and approving your child, who has such a troubled relationship with food, when she does manage to eat?

Amy is a child in ongoing distress. She’s hungry yet can hardly get food down her throat. She needs to feel unconditionally accepted as well as to feel capable and in charge of herself and her own eating. We want to increase her level of comfort with the food itself, not take advantage of her desire for acceptance to control her and to increase the pressure on her. Being watched, fussed over, urged, and evaluated only turns eating into an even less pleasant experience.

“I’m so proud of you for trying the beets!” sounds like positive reinforcement— hardly qualifying as “pressure”— but  it actually underlines the idea in the child’s mind that eating beets is an act of self-denial, the disagreeable thing you do to make your mom happy.

Praise or  any other such tactics to control her and pressure her to eat just causes Amy to retreat further. Even more than most of us, she naturally resists a push. She needs, even more than the typical child, to take the lead in her own eating.

Instead of Praise for Eating:

  • Switch the environment of pressure to eat to one of letting her come after food as she is able.  Allow her to pursue food for herself instead of feeling she must defend herself against its onslaught or eat something that disgusts her to gain her parents’ approval. Assume she is hungry and wants to eat if she can. Don’t use the power as the parent to get the child to do what you want, even it is “for her own good.” Make only good choices available, then support and reassure rather than pressure her. Let her be in control of her own eating. Your child shouldn’t be eating to please you or for any other reason than to enjoy it and to feel satisfied by it, in the friendly company of her family or friends. Give her the dignity of as much self-control as possible. Avoid giving her any cause to refuse to eat out of rebellion. Back off and let her take the initiative to touch, sniff, taste.
  • Remain as neutral, casual and calm as possible about her eating.  Denying her feelings and difficulties or expressing anger, as frustrating as it all is, will only make matters worse. It’s not fun for her, either. Your hypersensitive child doesn’t start out refusing to eat to make you crazy or to be bratty, though as with any child, that element tends to develop under pressure.

Getting excited when she does manage to eat something different may increase the pressure on her and detract from her own positive feelings about the eating itself. The flip side of the praise coin is criticism. If we praise, what will stop us from criticizing when it doesn’t go as we want it to? If we act like eating is a behavior, good or bad, and judge her for it, how is she going to feel accepted when she can’t help being an extremely picky eater?

Try to accept her problems as the way things are and move forward with as much cheer and nonchalance as you can muster.

  • Let her take the lead about whether she wants to talk about her eating and how she feels about it. Don’t use your own feelings to pressure her to eat. Accept and acknowledge her negative feelings. Instead of praising, reflect and name her own feelings of satisfaction about eating.

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Coming soon:

How to support and encourage a child who has difficulty eating

More Bad Tips for Feeding Hypersensitive, Orally Defensive or Sensory Processing Disordered Children

Related Post:

Three Bad Tips for Feeding Hypersensitive, Orally Defensive or Sensory Processing Disordered Children