My daughter has an eating problem: she doesn’t.
The cause is related to her illness and it is reinforced by physical and psychological side effects of this chronic illness.
Not just a fussy eater but literally for years F hasn’t been able to consume more than about 20 kcal a day through eating or drinking, with sometimes months going by without food passing her lips.
This is changing, firstly with Haptotherapy and and now we have a program to encourage her eating which is based on creating opportunities and rewarding her with recognition when she eats. We do nothing when she doesn’t eat, except to say “ok, maybe next time”.
However, this last week I’ve been getting pissed off. Really pissed off. I make things I know she likes and she says “no”. I ask what she wants and she replies “I don’t know”. Sounds like a lot of kids, I know, but I lost it.
I got annoyed and told her I had had enough. We had words. We sat apart, brooding.
She saw my tears and she hugged me. Yes it should have been me that moved first but sometimes our children are just better people than we are.
There’s a fine line between giving space to let them feel free and encouraged to eat and being totally I ineffective letting them just mess about. Sometimes I get lost and don’t know where I am in relation to that line. That’s what this last week was about.
When I’m on the right side of the line, it’s great. Positive psychology to encourage her to eat really does work; her range has expanded greatly and quicker than we ever expected (hey, in our world, getting her to put a whole teaspoon of food in her mouth in one go after 6 years is speedy gonzales fast). And it’s without arguments over food (well apart from the one I mentioned earlier but that was my fault). There is no power struggle. Repeat, no power struggle.
This is what it looks like:
1. We are open to her needs without being slaves to them. For example, we try to have stuff she actually eats in the house. If we have run out we put it on the list for the next time we go shopping. Running out is not the end of the world for either of us.
2. Get her involved in cooking. She loves to chop stuff and sometimes she just uses her hands (mushrooms are super easy at any age). I try to keep something for her to cut and if I can’t do that, then she can put what I have cut up in a bowl before we transfer it to the pan. It is not really necessary but it gives her something to do (and I look like one of those TV chefs from the 80’s who has stuff ready in little dishes. The irony or my scornful question “who cooks like that?”)
3. Let her play with food. There is a reason babies and toddlers shove their hands in their food and smooth it around. They are trying to figure out what it is and what it feels like before they bring it into contact with a very sensitive part of their bodies – their mouths. F totally skipped that activity as a baby (it made her projectile vomit to see a banana let alone touch it) and it only kicked in when she was about 3 or 4 years old. So we let her use her hands, to just touch and explore and to eat. If this is something she needs to do before she can take the next step of taking a nibble, then it’s fine by me. (Restaurant behaviour is a bit different and she is ok with that, she knows why).
4. Patience. Patience. Patience. And a kind voice.
5. Give time for the choice to be made. I start early, especially with dinner as that seems to take the longest. It goes like this:
Me: What do you want for dinner later? we have X, Y, Z (hmm that’s a thought, maybe I should try alphabetti spaghetti. Do they still make that?)
F: I don’t know
Me: ok, think about it or have a look in kitchen. I’m going to start cooking later
As time passes and dinner is getting made, we go through this process a couple more times, with the “deadline” for choice making getting closer.
6. Seems like she can’t make a choice? I just make something, put it on her plate. She will either eat it or not. Quite often she will – isn’t it great when others make the choice for you? I mean, half of my conversations with my husband start with “what shall we have for dinner/lunch?” (hmm another date night is needed methinks).
7. Involve her in the shopping: making the list, picking the stuff up in the shop, pressing ok on the pin machine (she loves this) and putting the shopping away when we get home. Ok, that last one doesn’t happen very much but it’s on my wish list.
8. Agreeing together with her what the rules are going to be. Super duper important one here. My agenda is to get her to eat. Her agenda is to eat, it’s just seasoned with a bit of control, wanting to choose and the occasional urge to just say no.
These all work.
But sometimes I just want to be listened to. Not to discuss but to just say “here, eat this” and be obeyed.
I choose that word deliberately, obeyed. It has nothing to do with eating really and is more about being tired.
Bringing up kids, who can think; make a plan; negotiate; consider the consequences of their actions; be creative, is hard work. It demands the same things of us and sometimes, that leaves me tired and cranky.
So this last week the seed of doubt found it’s way into my mind. It said “she’s just messing with me. Am I stuck in the Princess and the Pea story here?”. So I took the short cut, raised my voice and told her to “just eat!” It would be so much easier to have a robot that would just do what I say! Sigh. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
But a robot would not have given me a hug after seeing my tears. That affection came from the independent human being who can think for herself, who can make her own choices and who was moved to hug me, knowing that it would bring me comfort.
So what is the essence?
Our children are better people than we are
Positive psychology works
This week, F has been mostly eating sweetcorn.