Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

April 13, 2017

Mealtime Stress: Adding Fuel to the Fire

By: Heidi Moreland, MS, CCC-SLP, BRS-S, CLC

When you have a child with a feeding problem, it can be very difficult to find people who understand how tough it is, and how pervasive the fear and pressure can be. It is tempting to talk about the problem you are having with everyone around, in hopes of finding someone who can help. However, we have found that there are some people who can make the problem worse instead of better. We have also added a few strategies or phrases on how to handle some of these personalities to avoid increased stress.

Well-meaning friends and family: People who are genuinely concerned, but keep asking about how the feeding is going can unintentionally increase stress levels around parenting a child who struggles with eating. Whether the questions induce guilt, anger, frustration, or just fatigue, these emotions will not be helpful if added to your own stress.

  • Re-direct the conversation to other topics.
  • If you do have a “safe” person in the family, you may talk to them about being a go-between so that the rest of the family can stay updated, without interfering.
  • Have an honest conversation with the person or people that you need to take a break from thinking and talking about eating: “This is a tough time for us, it helps me to take a break from talking about it so much.”
  • Reassure them that you are seeing help: “I appreciate your concern, we are working through this with our feeding team.”

Fellow worriers: People who may not add negative emotions, but are more than happy to worry with you. If you know someone is prone to worrying, it won’t be helpful to bring up your concerns to them.

  • Avoid going to eat or feeding your child when they are around
  • Tell them you are struggling with worry around your child’s eating, and ask them to help you re-direct your own thoughts when you become too anxious: “I know I worry too much. Can you help me practice re-directing my thoughts?”

Bullies: People who make negative comments about eating or feeding, or your approach to either one. It can be unintentional, but often has an element of superiority. It can be from people who feel strongly about topics such as parenting, nutrition, breastfeeding, feeding or discipline

  • It rarely seems helpful to argue, as bullies usually don’t have an interest in meaningful dialogue. Their main concern seems to be making sure that you understand their approach and why they believe they are right.
  • If possible, avoid interaction with them, especially around feeding.
  • Be prepared to tactfully change the topic.
  • Remember the truth about what you believe so they gain less emotional leverage over you.
  • You may say that you appreciate their input, but that they don’t have the full story or you have differing philosophies: “I’m glad that worked for you, but we find that those strategies actually didn’t work in our house.”
  • Sometimes a neutral, factual comment can help: “That’s interesting, because there is a lot of research that shows that adult pressure around mealtimes can actually make food struggles worse, instead of better.”

Stay tuned for next week’s post on what to do when the bully is part of the medical team!

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