The Family Gathers…
It’s Holiday Time! Everyone is excited to see friends and family, to gather around the table and give thanks, to get ready for the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons and many other religious and non-religious occasions for celebration. So, everyone is cheerful, in good moods, and thrilled at the thought of all the yummy food to be served during the Holiday season. Right? Mostly, except for the families with children who have food aversions that range from picky eating to problem feeding. Feeding issues during holidays increases stress for these children and their families. What are we going to feed our kids? What is my mom, mother-in-law, aunt, cousin, friend going to tell me to do this year? “Just don’t feed them, they’ll eat when they are hungry.” “Just put your foot down; they eat what we serve or nothing at all.” “Just tell them they have to sit there at the table until they eat.” We have experienced and heard it all.
I remember sitting at the Thanksgiving table at my mom’s house with all my close and distant relatives getting ready to eat an amazing amount of delicious food. I looked over at my 4-year old niece who had a look of sheer fear and panic on her face as my brother plopped mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing on her plate. He then proceeded to hold a Disney Trading Pin of all the Princesses (something she wanted more than anything) in front of her and strongly encouraged her to try everything to get the pin. As the hour went on and she sat there retracted in her chair as stiff as a board, fingers splayed. I thought to myself, “Does my brother NOT remember that I AM a feeding specialist”? He proceeded to put the pin in his pocket and began to threaten “NO DESSERT!”. After enduring this through my whole meal, I had enough. I grabbed the pin, her plate, and her. We went upstairs to my old bedroom where, sitting on the floor, I got her to try the turkey and stuffing. She attempted the mashed potatoes, gagged and threw up just a little. I told her she was brave; she for trying all these things on such a stressful day for her. I then handed her the Disney Pin and told her to go eat all the dessert she wanted because today was about being thankful not about being punished. My brother stood in the door of my old room in amazement and asked: “How did you do that?” I told him it’s what I do. My niece, now in college, started feeding therapy the following week.
This was real for my niece. She struggled with feeding from the day she was born. She was severely jaundiced, always tiring, couldn’t latch. Finally, giving up on nursing, even bottle feeding was a struggle. Told by doctors and others she’ll catch on; she’ll outgrow it; she’ll eat when she’s hungry. That never happened for her; she needed help. What can be learned from such an experience? How can the Holidays be less stressful and enjoyed by all? How can we make it so everyone knows when it’s time to seek specialized help?
Tips to Surviving Feeding Issues during Holiday Feasts:
1. Focus on the event. We are gathering to give thanks, to celebrate. The holidays are about making memories; they are not about what we have eaten that day. So, enjoy the food, but don’t focus on it.
2. Keep it positive. The mission should be for your child to enjoy “their” meal. Today is NOT the day to change the expectations of what is offered or expected. It is NOT the day to set new rules. Look at emphasizing good manners, playing well with others, not nagging or complaining. Go so far as to bring a large portion of your child’s preferred food for everyone to sample.
3. Avoid the Battle. Remember it is just another meal.
4. Set the expectations of others ahead of time. If there is a particular person in your family who will make comments and give unsolicited advice, attempt to reach out to them ahead of time.
5. Avoid surprises. Discuss the foods that will be served ahead of time with your child so they know what to expect.
6. Try the new foods ahead of time, if possible. If not, ask them to take a little and just put it on their plate. Can they tolerate that?
7. Feed your child before the meal if needed, so they can sit at the table and not feel pressured to eat.
Should I be concerned about my child’s eating?
Some indicators we talk through with families here at Alphabet Soup, Inc. (a private clinic specializing in pediatric speech and feeding disorders) are:
• Are mealtimes overly stressful and negative?
• Does your child eat less than 20 different foods?
• Is your child brand specific?
• Does your child gag at the sight, smell, or taste of new or non-preferred foods?
• Does your child’s diet consist of almost only carbohydrates?
• Has your child been diagnosed with Failure to Thrive?
Feeding issues therapy can help with:
• Food refusals
• Texture transitions
• Limited food repertoire: picky eater vs. problem feeder
• Food Stuffing
• “Behavioral Feeders”
• Transition tube feeders to oral eaters
We at Alphabet Soup, Inc would like to wish all our families a very Happy Holiday Season!
Jennifer Hoskins, MS CCC-SLP, treats children from birth to teens who have feeding disorders. She is the owner and clinical director of Alphabet Soup, Inc., a pediatric clinic that specializes in treating children with oral motor feeding and motor speech disorders. She has been in practice for 20 years and is the mom and aunt of children with feeding issues.
Alphabet Soup Inc. provides therapy that is individualized to each child’s personality and needs. Mealtime doesn’t have to be stressful, and finding resources to help you and your child is crucial for success. With the holidays upon us, mealtime is the center of our family gatherings. If you are feeling extra anxious or concerned regarding your child’s eating habits, we encourage you to reach out. If you have any questions regarding your child and their feeding behavior, we are happy to speak with you and determine if a feeding evaluation would be beneficial! You can visit us online at www.alphabetsouptherapy.org or call us directly at 401-284-8198. Alphabet Soup understands children and feeding – each child is not the same, and the spectrum of challenges they face during mealtime is wide. We are here to help in any way we can!
Except from a family at our clinic:
“As a mother of three, my oldest followed everything those baby books laid out, almost to a tee. She transitioned to purees and solids with ease. She has always loved her fruits, veggies and various proteins including meat and fish! My youngest is much more on the picky side and she doesn’t always like to try new things. My middle child… he was an entirely different story. He wasn’t just picky, or not hungry, but mealtime was always a battle. He struggled even while nursing. Yes, he nursed and he gained weight but even that was not a seamless relationship. For some of us, it’s very clear that our child needs some sort of additional support when it comes to mealtime. Since he was my second, I knew that the gagging and vomiting on anything solid was not normal. I remember being at his 2-year appointment and voicing my concern regarding his transition to solids. I loved my pediatrician and trusted him. Interestingly, he was not concerned since he was still gaining weight and nursing. I was told some kids are just later to take to the solids than others and it was okay. It didn’t feel okay though.
When I brought my son into Alphabet Soup for his evaluation, the only solid food he tolerated was peach Gerber Puffs. I brought them to that appointment with me because I needed to bring a preferred food. I was told that Alphabet Soup would provide what he needed going forward. When we arrived at our second appointment, his therapist came out with a container of those peach puffs and I knew I found the right team for his success! Since we walked through those doors for our initial evaluation, he no longer vomits on new foods. They referred us to appropriate doctors that helped figure out structural issues. His therapist transitioned him up through various foods all with success, each food building on the one before like climbing a ladder. All of this, in turn, built his confidence! Suddenly, we reached a point where he was eager to try the new food each session. Today, while he still needs support and is learning, he can eat a whole peanut butter and jelly sandwich… HALLELUYAH!”
BW (Mom of David)