Earlier in the week my blog post talked about the fact that my very own children are picky eaters. That’s because they are children. Although I spend quite a good deal of energy dispelling the myth of the ‘picky eater’… the fact remains that mealtimes are a place where many children, with or without diagnosed feeding issues, will assert themselves. Ok, I will say it again – it’s rarely about the taste of food. I just can’t stress this enough. It. Is. Not. About. Taste. Usually. (Everyone has preferences, and that is OK).
For a child who doesn’t have a ‘diagnosis’, it could be their mood, their hunger level, their overall temperament, their age (it’s normal for toddlers to turn their nose up at new foods). For a child with more medically or mechanically based feeding issues it could be the memory of pain associated with eating, a strong gag reflex, a difficultly with chewing or swallowing, or picking up the food or the utensil with the food on it. More about the many, many steps of eating here.
I feel like a broken record, but I also feel like this is such an important message. Eating is complex. Eating is a behavior. Children in general often test limits, and mealtimes are a great venue for that, feeding diagnosis or not.
I think that the reason so many families continue to feel isolated and hopeless when faced with a child with feeding issues is because to some extent, it is typical for children to have difficult behaviors at mealtimes. So, frustrated and worried parents often get brushed off. Just because something resembles ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ behavior does not mean that as the parent you have to sit back and accept things the way they are. There is always something that can be done.
Whether or not your child has a diagnosis that provides a reason for their feeding issues, the same basic principles can be applied to improve your experience of mealtimes.
- Establish a mealtime routine, and be consistent with it. I certainly lean toward a parent-directed, behavior approach, but do not push that on my clients. It is so important to find a method that you are comfortable with, and believe in.
- Be reasonable. Make sure that what you are expecting from your child is something that they are capable of. This is one reason that I promote the ‘one bite’ rule. It is an absolutely reasonable amount of food for your child to manage. One bite, done. If you know you are being reasonable with what you are asking your child to do, you can be confident in the simple demands you are making.
- Be reliable. Every adult who is involved in mealtimes should ideally be on the same page. Everyone should understand the routine, agree with it, and stick to it, so that the child knows what to expect at every meal. No matter who is there.
What these steps translate to or look like will vary greatly from child to child and family to family. The key is to apply these principles to your own family, and not compare your child’s mealtimes to what it looks like at someone else’s table.
If you’d like to learn more about these three simple principles for improved mealtimes, please do not hesitate to reach out! email@example.com