Food Chaining: My Review, Part I
The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet. The Kid-Tested Solution for Stress-Free Mealtimes, by Cheri Fraker, et al.
Imagine a young mom with clumps of oatmeal clinging to the side of her head. She is staring off into space and resolutely ignoring little Johnny. She winces as he throws handfuls of cereal at her while grinning.
This is the picture I get from page 160-190 of Food Chaining, the section called “Using Positive Reinforcement at the Table.” This part of the book advocates ignoring your child when he does anything you don’t like, from throwing food, spitting out food or crying at the table, to refusing to eat. We are advised to only acknowledge our children when they do what we like. When they do what we like, we should fuss over them, clap and lavish them with praise. Only pay attention to your children when they do what you want them to do, the authors tell us.
The authors recommend, for example, turning a child’s chair around and pretending she doesn’t exist for a minute if she throws food. Then if she eats instead of throwing the food, praise her warmly. These techniques will get the message through children’s heads, eventually, through trial and error, what we want from them and how to get our attention or not.
I have some objections to these recommendations, along with some better suggestions.
I regularly refer parents to Food Chaining if they see any indication of having a problem feeder rather than just a picky eater. It’s one of the few sources I know that can help parents pinpoint what diagnosable medical, motor oral, sensory processing or behavioral problems may be causing problem eating and how to get needed help. The first step with any picky eating problems is to figure out WHY a child is not eating, then proceed with solutions to the specific problem. There’s always a reason, as the authors of Food Chaining tell us.
This book is about children who have problems that make it impossible for them to eat normally. So I have to question why we would want to pressure and manipulate a child to eat. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to interact with the child on the assumption that children will eat normally if they can (to paraphrase Ross Greene)?
When responding to a child’s behavior, wouldn’t it be simpler and more humane to explain and give information to a child? Talk to her. Be direct. State your expectations: “Food stays on the table. We don’t throw food.” Be firm, while keeping the communications open. Try to understand why it’s happening. Is your child trying to tell you something?
Take the food away if necessary. She won’t die of hunger. Rather, she’ll quit throwing the food if she’s hungry.
Yet, here the authors are advocating that we leverage our love and attention to manipulate and pressure a child with eating problems to eat. Withdraw acknowledgement of her existence in order get her eating. Try to force her to eat to to feel accepted, rather than her eating normally out of hunger and for enjoyment and because she is ready to and capable of doing so. Take advantage of her desire for love and attention to manipulate her.
Ignoring misbehavior may be better than nagging a child to stop and not doing anything to enforce it. But even if it’s “for her own good,” there’s a better way than these methods.
Say little Johnny throws oatmeal at you. Don’t ignore it. Firmly show your disapproval of the action and explain the principles of behavior and your response to it: “I don’t like having oatmeal in my hair. Food stays on the table.”
The child is learning how what he does affects others, and learning about some good general rules of life. He’s not being ignored, he’s not being yelled at. He’s not being punished, or manipulated as if he were a uncomprehending animal. He is being engaged and taught. Talk to your child. Treat him like a human. He can learn and understand from a very young age.