Q: My five-year-old has had eating issues since he was an infant. When I introduced solid foods at six months, he began rejecting most vegetables. His feeding problems have worsened since then to the point that today he will eat only breaded chicken strips, tater tots, and vanilla ice cream (but only a certain brand). We worked with a feeding therapist for about six months but made no appreciable progress. She said he has a form of sensory integration disorder, which she explained as his brain is wired so that foods don’t taste to him the way they taste to most people. So even certain sweet foods taste bitter to him, and he will gag and even throw up at the mere sight of them. In addition, he reacts negatively to certain textures. My mom says I was a picky eater, so he apparently inherited a tendency in this direction from me. I’m grasping at straws here, but do you have any suggestions?
A: First, there is zero evidence to back up the claims made by the therapist. She cannot prove her contention that the “wiring” between your son’s taste buds and his brain is abnormal, nor can she prove that he inherited some “eating disorder tendency” from you. What she told you is typical of the pseudoscientific babble dispensed by professionals who can’t see outside the boundaries of the medical model they were taught in graduate school.
My belief is that most childhood so-called “behavior disorders” are simply long-standing bad habits. Sometimes it’s relatively easy to figure out how these habits developed, while in other cases, it’s anyone’s guess. At some point in the development of a certain bad habit, the child in question intuits that the behavior in question—in this case, refusing to eat certain foods—is a way to control other people, causing them to treat him as a special case.
I’ve been consulted by dozens of parents about “feeding issues,” and when said parents follow my approach, it has never failed. It’s based on the commonsense notion that children will do what is to their advantage, and, conversely, they will stop doing what is no longer to their advantage.
For example, I once worked with parents whose child, after six months in a feeding therapy program, was eating about five foods. So I had them tell the child that his problem was due to a lack of adequate sleep—that when he didn’t get enough sleep, his taste buds stop working properly, and food tasted weird. In other words, I had them begin their son’s “therapy” by redefining the problem in terms a young child could understand.
So when he was unable to eat the food put on his plate at the evening meal (one-teaspoon portions of what everyone else was eating), it simply meant that he needed to catch up on his sleep. Therefore, he was excused from the table and put in bed immediately, lights out, curtains drawn.
He didn’t like that—not one bit! But in less than a week his repertoire of acceptable foods went from five to 15, and in due time he was eating anything his parents put on his plate and usually asking for seconds. A few nights of early bedtime “therapy” accomplished what more than six months on a “feeding therapy” program achieved, where he received attention and concern for acting like his tongue and brain weren’t properly connected.
Common sense trumps pseudoscience once again!
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.