I know you’re all dying to know how the new dinner thing is going. Did we finally crack it? Or did I just crack, again?
I cannot tell a lie, at least not here on the blog, so I have to admit that once again we fell at about the second fence and it all came to pieces as soon as I blogged about how great I was and how we were finally on the right track. Of course it did. Will I never learn to keep my big trap (fingers) shut (still)?
There’s a but. (Not a butt. Stop giggling there in the back row.) Reading the book and finding the blog were good, but joining a Facebook group for parents of selective eaters has really opened my eyes and given me a healthy dose of perspective on what we’re facing, how bad it is in the grand scheme of things, and what’s important.
There are parents in the group who have fussy toddlers, in a totally normal and age-appropriate way, babies and little kids who are exercising their newly found power by refusing food, or demanding only certain foods, or not eating things they’ve always eaten in the past. There are parents of kids like mine, who are picky and selective and have limited diets by their own choosing and who won’t “eat when they’re hungry enough” no matter how much you assume that’ll be the case.
And there are parents of children who are traumatized around food because they had such terrible reflux that their oesophagus was burned by acid, or who lack the muscle tone to swallow efficiently, or who have been badgered and bullied and terrorized so that they shut down around food, or who survive only thanks to liquid diet supplements, or whose parents celebrate when they eat a teaspoonful of solid food for the first time in a week, or who spent years on a feeding tube and have to learn how to eat from scratch.
Compared to these parents, I feel pretty lucky. My child has no allergies, no physical difficulty eating, is perfectly healthy despite his limited diet, and continues to grow apace.
It also brings home what an odd relationship we in the Western world have with food. Food is energy, food makes us grow, food is vital for life. And yet we insist on categorizing food into “good” and “bad.” Often we need to do something like this for ourselves because we have so much choice, such a bounty of sugar and salt and smooth and crunchy and deep-fried and processed that we’ve lost sight of the basics. But for these kids, food is food, and all food is good. A lot of it is about trusting that when offered a variety of foods, humans will, if they don’t have reasons to do otherwise, choose a selection that is healthful and eat as much as, but not more than, they need.
So by offering a bunch of different things at once, we can help our children trust themselves, and show them that we trust them. That’s the key to the Division of Responsibility (DOR) method.
It’s hard to do it perfectly: I clearly haven’t figured out how to do it at all. I have niggling issues with timing and fear of waste and how to balance one child’s needs and wants against the other’s. But here’s what’s changed for me in the past few weeks:
- I am more understanding of Dash’s feelings. I don’t dismiss his food concerns as “illogical” or “ridiculous” even if they seem that way to me. I’m meeting him where he is, not trying to coerce him into coming over to my way of thinking.
- I am more likely to keep foods he likes in the house, because they’re his safe foods, even if they don’t seem particularly “good” to me. Things like tortilla chips or Sun Chips or plain bagels. I resisted this for so long, partly because I have no self-control around Sun Chips, but mostly because at some level apparently I still felt that if he was hungry enough he’d eat “better” foods. That’s not true, and has clearly not ever been true for him. I’m learning to let go of that notion and have food in the house that he’s happy to eat.
Basically, I’m being nicer to Dash: less impatient, more understanding. It’s nice to be nice to him; I think deep down inside I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be nice about food, but this is better. (It’s interesting the things I continue to discover about me, not about him, as we go deeper into this.)
So, for instance, when we were away this weekend I promised to always remember to ask while ordering his french fries whether there’s seasoning on them, and if they can please not do that. Before, we’ve not said anything and sometimes fries will come out with pepper on them, or – heaven forfend! – a sprinkling of parsley flakes – and then there’s a row because I don’t like making a fuss and sending things back, and to me it’s silly to refuse to eat them over this tiny thing. But to him it’s a huge thing. And if we order them without seasoning up front, there’s no waste and no awkwardness and it’s perfectly easy for the restaurant too. Win-win, but something I’ve been so resistant to for no good reason except that it felt like pandering to the fussy child and I thought I shouldn’t do that.
I’m more able now to treat what might seem like tiny achievements as what they really are – big deals in the world of selective eating. This weekend he tried and liked two new foods! They were crinkle-cut fries and kettle corn, which might not sound like a great discovery to most of us, but let’s celebrate our victories where we find them. Taking an existing “safe food” – in this case, straight fries and plain salted popcorn – and expanding that to a variation in shape or flavour – is called food chaining, and it’s how a selective eater can start to expand their horizons while feeling secure and unthreatened.
So let’s call this a win. Just not the one I thought it was going to be.