Saturday, October 6, 2012

Feeding with Love and Respect

I just saw this video on facebook and had to post here and comment.  The video has over a million views on YouTube and is quite cute at first blush. Dad seems to be a genuinely engaged and loving father, and it is shown as a humorous and cute way to get an infant to eat his solids: oh the lengths we go as parents.

However, I really had a visceral reaction to it: My bone is that it really is, at its core, a disrespectful way of approaching feeding.  Perhaps I'm a wet blanket about this video, but it's a bit of an issue for me when I see parents coercing, forcing, or otherwise manipulating their child into eating.  The dad in the video seems loving and involved; he strikes me as being devoted and caring.  But having worked with families whose young children were coerced, either overtly or through distraction, to eat, it really bothers me.  Most of us worry that our kids won't eat enough, but eating, just like every milestone, takes time to develop.  For me the most important feeding skill a child learns in the early months is that they are in control of what goes into their bodies.  Distracting them with music or toys shows a lack of faith that the child will learn to eat what and how much they need to eat to grow well.  It sends the message that we do not trust our children with their own bodies.  And it sends the message that how much you eat is of more importance than the development of eating skills --kids will generally eat what they need, even if it is not as much as parents want them to eat.

Maybe this music-video-eating was a funny and accidental discovery.  Maybe it was an occasional thing.  Maybe they do this ritual every meal.  Whatever the case, I am really not fussy about having intake be a higher priority for me than it is for the child.

Particularly when infants and children are underweight, it is easy to get into a viscious cycle of doing whatever we need to do to get food in.  But in the long run, manipulating a young child to eat does not give them the power or control to become healthy eaters as toddlers, preschoolers, teenagers, and adults.

Back to the video:  this kid is cute, for sure.  And it is amusing (in a way) how much more this child eats with the video on.  But is he really involved in eating?  Or is he passively taking the food dad gives him?  Is he any closer to becoming a competent eater?  Does he 'need' to eat that much?  What happens next week when the video isn't enough?

To be sure, a child this age would not be independent eating, but developing competence is different: competence doesn't exclude cooperation, support, or guidance.  I am sure that if the video weren't played, they would have a fussy little guy (and probably a bit hungry too) for a few days, but if dad just put the spoon, or soft pieces of banana or avocado, on the tray, I speculate this little guy would soon become more interested in the food itself (which is the main point of sitting down to eat, isn't it?).

To paraphrase Ellyn Satter, author of "Feeding with Love and Good Sense" and "How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not Too Much", our job as parents is to provide good food and a reasonable mealtime routine; our kids' jobs are to decide if and how much to eat.  That's a division of responsibility I feel strongly about in helping our children become healthy and competent eaters.

(Postscript:  There are some effective family-oriented approaches to eating disorders that do take some of the responsibility of eating away from kids.  I view this as quite different because the eating disorder has interfered with the child's ability to take on this responsibility.  I wonder, however, what contribution early eating experiences have on the development of eating disorders.  Would they be less prevalent if we didn't try to control our children's intakes from the get-go?)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Toddler in the Garden

Summer 2012
Spring 2011
Our (almost) 3 year old has been watering our indoor herb garden for a year and half now, has been picking peppers (prematurely) in the garden this summer, and has a penchant for reorganizing the vegetable markers.  But now we can add "tamarind watcher" to the list.

Our tamarind plant was lovingly grown from seed in our basement under lights this spring.  Now our toddler has placed it on our kitchen table as a centrepiece.  And what a perfect centre-piece it is.  The tamarind leaves fold in towards each other in the evenings as we eat dinner, and are still opening back up again over breakfast.  We have a larger plant outside that gets included in our daily 'tamarind talk', and it is lovely to see our little guy take such an interest in watching this plant change.  I think it leads him to pay a little more attention to the other (less active) plants in our sill: he wants to keep all of our window-sill herbs (especially the basil) "happy" with daily watering.

Our tamarind plant

Montessori Toddler Gardening (Pinterest)
Gardening Activities for Kids:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tipping Point

There has come a time during my breastfeeding relationships with each of my sons that something small yet extraordinary has happened (beyond the other extraordinary things that happen when one breastfeeds). Long after the cracked nipples have healed, when engorgement has settled, and several weeks after I feel like we've got breastfeeding down pat, I stop 'paying attention' to the process of breastfeeding and start taking for granted that it has reached a comfortable plateau of competence: I know when he's hungry, he knows I respond, and we both pretty much know what to do about it.  

But just when I stop really actively paying attention to breastfeeding (and can start walking while breastfeeding, and feeding him easily in a wrap, I am made aware of the process again because of a tipping point between how much I contribute to breastfeeding relative to my infant son.

That moment came last week. I was fumbling in the dark to help my 3 month old latch on in the middle of the night. I couldn't tell where my nipple was (it's never where I left it), and I couldn't quite see where my son was veering and bobbing his head. I was readjusting both my breast and my babe in an awkward little dance when, seemingly out of nowhere, bam, a latch on.   It was so unexpected when it first happened because until then, I was the one in control of ensuring my son was close enough, high enough, turned towards me enough.  I knew the moment that he would latch on because his success depended on me.

My son, of course, has always been a part of this jig (it takes two, there is no doubt). He needed to do the actual latch on, he coordinated his tongue, his jaw, his suck, his breathing. He needed to be hungry or want soothing.  But it was up to me to make sure all the other pieces were in place. Well not anymore. As long as my breast is somewhere in the vicinity, my son can hone in like SONAR, and stick the landing like a gold medal gymnast. Like two magnets snapping together.  Because he now has head control, awareness, and conscious intent to get to that milk, my son has added one more little component to his side of the breastfeeding effort.  

What a cool moment. In describing it it almost becomes trite.  It seems so 'minor' that it should be inconsequential, but it marks a pretty significant shift in the way I think of my son. It's like watching something as seemingly simple as the CanadArm in action --simple two sides fitting together like they were meant to, but so much goes into making it happen.  It is a moment for me to acknowledge that the ever so gradual transition from infant to independent adult has just made one small little shift.  One small step for baby, one giant leap for motherhood.