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Picky Eater Kids: Preventing and Managing Food Anxiety

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Do you have picky eater kids? Or do you want to make sure you don’t in the future? We talk about what causes a picky eating disorder and explain the picky eater definition. Also, Lynn answers a listener question about an eight year old girl who is having trouble remembering her life before the pandemic.

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Show Notes

0:55 Lynn mentions an actual an disorder called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder that came out in the latest edition of the DSM five, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition of Psychiatric Diagnosis.

6:22 Robin shares a parenting hack to introduce new fruits or vegetables to young children.

8:47 Robin suggests a game called eat your face, where you take a variety of cut up fruits and vegetables to start design facial expressions.

14:06 Robin asks Lynn if picky eaters are grasping for control because they do not feel that have autonomy.

26:52 Lynn describes what isn’t a picky eater.

28:18 Robin references Lynn’s books, Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents.

Use the Circle to manage your kids screen time. Our affiliate link will get you $20 off a circle. I love it.

30:59 Listener Question about the pandemic affecting a child’s memory.

Join the Facebook group so you can ask your question to Lynn in a future episode.

Closing Music Courtesy of Susie Tallman, “Apples & Bananas

Episode Transcript

Robin Hutson 0:00

Picky eaters. What’s going on with your kids, and how do they show that at mealtime? No parent wants a teenager still eating a toddler’s diet. We’re going to talk about healthy habits around eating to start when your kids are young, as well as unpack the emotional patterns that may be behind your picky eaters.

How do you live in a world bigger than buttered noodles? Stay tuned and hear what Lynn has to say about raising flexible eaters. And she’ll answer a listener question about how the stress of the pandemic is appearing in one eight year old and why it’s hard for her to remember her life before it

Take it away, Lynn.

Lynn Lyons 0:33

Hi, everybody. I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m a psychotherapist and expert in anxiety, an author, speaker. And I’m here with my sister in law and producer Robin.

Hi, Robin!

Picky Eating Affects a Family Beyond Mealtime

Robin Hutson  0:42

I’m so excited to talk about picky eating today. It’s such a topic that affects a lot of kids and then indirectly affects so much of how a family can enjoy cooking and eating together.

Lynn Lyons  0:55

Yeah, and the other thing too, that in the way this impacts families is that it impacts your social life. Because if you have a picky eater, it’s hard to go out to dinner with other families, it’s hard to be the guest and other people’s homes, it impacts birthday parties. There’s a lot of judgment with it. So, you’ve got, you know, like your mother in law’s judging you or your own parents or judging you.

It becomes really not only a sort of nutritional issue, but it becomes really a social issue. A lot of families, that’s what brings them to me is that they’re really trying to figure out how to navigate it. As a parent and interactions and friendships, it really can be quite the little pebble dropped in the pond. As we’re talking about this, I just want to start off by making one important distinction. Because there are picky eaters, and there are kids that have a really hard time eating a variety of foods. And there are things that parents do that make that problematic.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

And there are things that parents do that don’t. But there’s just one other category that I just want you to know about. But I just want to put it out there as a distinction. There is actually an eating disorder called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. This is a fairly new diagnosis. And I know we’ve talked a lot about diagnoses.

But this is a fairly new diagnoses that came out in the latest edition of the DSM five, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition of Psychiatric Diagnosis. And what this describes is kids that have very, very limited diets and kids that have probably a combination of some really strong sensory issues.

They’re super tasters. So, they taste sweet, they taste bitter, and they taste sour, very strongly. It’s not really enjoyable for them to eat strong flavors, these kids are just not all that interested in food in general. So, they’re not kids that have voracious appetites.

You know, there’s people who say, “Oh, you eat like a bird,” or some people say, “Oh, gosh, I just forget to eat.” Food just doesn’t figure all that, importantly, in their normal daily lives. So that’s another component that adds to it.

And then oftentimes, there’s a real fear of something bad happening if they eat certain foods. And we will talk about that in a moment. Because I do see that so that combination of things— those three things. You’ve got a fear of an aversive consequence. You’ve got some high sensory stuff going on, and also just really not a great appetite.

Those things sometimes combined to create this eating disorder. And it really makes parents so concerned. Their kids aren’t eating. Sometimes they’re not gaining weight. You’ve got kids that maybe will only eat one or two foods, we actually had a friend child who is like this, and it’s very, very dramatic.

If your child fits into that category, then you really need to seek out professional help for this, because the things that I’m going to talk about today, you’re going to bump up against some things, and you’re going to, if you are a parent, and you’ve experienced this, it takes some work. It’s definitely treatable, for sure. And it’s definitely related to anxiety for sure, because I’ve seen it, and I’ll talk a little bit about this. So, you know, this really extreme form of this is something that you’re going to need professional help with.

Picky Eating Definition

So that said, let’s talk about picky eaters. The way this often shows up and the way that it’s sort of normal in the lives of families is that you’ve got a child who you sit down to eat dinner, or you even tell them what you’re going to make for dinner. And they’re like, “Yeah, I’m not eating that.” Right?

So, for mom or dad, like they’ve worked all day, and they’re like, “Alright, um, we’re going to, we’re going to have meatloaf and green beans,” and the kids are like, “Yuck, that’s the worst thing ever. Why do we always have to have meatloaf?” and then immediately there’s tension.

And what happens is then because you’re tired, and because you don’t want to deal with it, you start becoming a short order cook and you say, “Alright, fine, you can have chicken nuggets, or you can have macaroni and cheese.” And then you get into a pattern where a child doesn’t have a very expansive palette, doesn’t have experience trying different foods and figuring out what they like or don’t like, and their range of foods gets really, really small.

So that sort of falls into the range of kind of normal, picky eating. I refer to it also often when I’m working with families as the toddler diet, right, so they’ll eat macaroni and cheese, Lucky Charms, pizza, French fries. And grilled cheese sandwich. If you cut the crust off, you want to pay attention to that early on.

One of the things that we know is that oftentimes when kids are little, so I’m talking like a year, two years old when they start, maybe not a year, that’s pretty little, but maybe two years old, when they start eating human being food is they will be more experimental.

I’m sure, probably, Robin, you probably know families like this, where they say, “Oh, she used to eat salmon. And she used to eat this. And she said that now she’ll only eat macaroni and cheese— If it’s in the box that has the purple label on it.” You want to be careful as kids are moving into eating more that you continue to give them a variety of foods to try.

Robin Hutson  5:45 

I’d like to share my favorite parenting hack because I did raise two kids who love vegetables. There is science that actually describes why after a certain point in a toddler’s development, they become more restrictive with the foods they’re curious about.

Lynn Lyons  6:03 

Tell us.

Robin Hutson  6:03 

And they align it with the adaptation of mobility. So that if we were living in the forests, and suddenly a toddler was able to wander far away from the parents, it made them less inclined to want to try and eat things that could have been poisonous.

Lynn Lyons  6:19 

Oh, that’s so interesting. I’ve never heard that before.

how to get a picky toddler to eat

Robin Hutson  6:22 

So, one of the things that I did that always worked. And you have to do this when the kids are really young. You provide an assortment of fruits or vegetables, and you put them on a plate for yourself. When your child, in the afternoon around three or four in that classic snacking time, you sit down next to them. And you just start eating the sliced red pepper or the boiled artichoke or whatever vegetable or fruit it is.

They’ll say, “What is that?” And then you say, “Oh, this is my red pepper.” And they’ll say, “Can I try it?”  Because if you’re not forcing the food on the child, and you’re enjoying it next to them, they will try it. And so, anytime I wanted to introduce a new food, I learned it was always easier to introduce it outside of the pressure of mealtime.

Lynn Lyons  7:11 

Just what you’re talking about, one of the don’ts of getting kids to try different foods is forcing them to eat it. So that whole sort of, you know, you have to clean your plate. We were done with that a long time ago, hopefully, but forcing them to eat. And then the other thing that you’re talking about Robin, which is just, you know, what you’re modeling, you’re modeling that you’re sitting down with these brightly colored foods, and that you’re enjoying them. They want to try it because you’re modeling, you’re saying like, “Oh, this blueberry is so delicious.”

Oftentimes, when I’m meeting with families, if there’s a child who has a very sort of limited diet, then oftentimes the parents have a limited diet, too. And the kids just haven’t been exposed to all of these different foods.

And then the other thing that you said is that visuals matter. So, appearance matters. So, when we’re talking about healthy foods for kids, they really are beautiful foods. And if we can arrange them on a plate, like you said, you know, so we have some blueberries and some red peppers, playing around with colors, and making, making it a part of a fun thing. Like let’s have something yellow, let’s have something red, let’s have something green, let’s have something blue, even it with little kids, even getting out their box of crayons and putting the colored crayon  next to the food is just a fun way to increase their curiosity, because that’s what we want to do. We want to make it fun. And we want to make them curious. And so, I love that idea.

Play with healthy foods early on

Robin Hutson  8:47 

You can play a game called eat your face, where you take a variety of cut up fruits and vegetables. And then you have a circle to start designing faces and expressions. And you do this along with them. It’s you know, instead of using crayons that day, if you use crudité, and you use fruits. And then they design the facial expressions, and then you have to eat them.

Introducing all of these natural options as a as a fun activity, so that it’s not, here’s your dinner, sit down, I want to see you eat all your peas, I want you to eat one more bite of chicken. And then you can have dessert, right? It’s when it becomes a negotiation.

Lynn Lyons  9:27 

It’s really fun. As I’m thinking about creating these faces with fruit and vegetables, make sure you include eyebrows because that’s really fun to make angry faces or surprise faces or happy faces. And I just think green beans are really a great way to do that.

And then you mentioned something else, Robin, that’s really important is we don’t want to have dessert as either a reward or a punishment. But if you say after a meal and it’s usually after dinner, right?  Well if you eat all of this, then you get your dessert. You’re making this distinction between the healthy food that we eat during dinner. That’s sort of the thing we have to slog through so we can actually get to the good stuff.

And we want to give the message that the food that you’re serving is also the good stuff. So, don’t set up that distinction between that. We used to call it grow food, when my kids were little, we would talk about eating grow food, because they wanted to grow. But make sure that you don’t do that with dessert.

The other thing too, that’s really helpful for kids, when you’re introducing new foods to them, is to make the portion super, super small, you can put three peas on the plate.

And that’s fine, particularly kids that maybe they don’t have that severe form of what I was talking about before, avoidant restrictive food disorder, but there are kids that when they’re trying new foods, when they look at it at their on their plates, they do get overwhelmed. And it looks like too much and sensory wise, it just bombards them. So, make really, really small portions, three peas, that’s why eating the face is great, right? Because we’re going to have just a few peas or a few carrots.

It takes time for everybody to develop a taste. You know, we have that expression. Oh, it’s an acquired taste. Many times, people who drink a cup of coffee when they’re little they take a sip and Oh God, I’d never drink that. And now, right, oh my gosh, right. I’m a total coffee addict.

But being aware of the fact that it takes time to develop a palate for certain things. And it really is okay to introduce it slowly and gradually and to be patient with that. We don’t want to force. Forcing is not going to work here.

You can’t be a short order cook

However, the flip side of that is present the food to them, and that’s the food that you’re serving for dinner. If you are making four different meals for four different people in your family. And remember this about your partner too, because it’s about modeling, if you make something for you, and you make something different for your partner, because this other adult is a picky eater, you are showing your kids that this is a restaurant that they can go in and they can order their favorite foods every time they show up for dinner.

That’s not a pattern that you want to start. And it’s not a pattern that you want to continue because it’s going to piss you off, you’re going to get resentful for that you’re going to feel like you have to do it. And they’re going to hold you hostage because you’re going to worry that you’re not being a good parent, because you’re not feeding your children.

Robin Hutson  12:29 

I have a friend who might be listening if she she’s my total hero for being such a hardliner. She is tough about this. And she says this is a kitchen, not a restaurant. If you don’t want to eat it, you can stay in your seat, and you can stay with us while we enjoy this food. Mm hmm. You could have it later. But you can’t have anything else. And when you have it later, it won’t be warm. It won’t be as good as it is right now. And so, she doesn’t budge.

It was the culture that most of us grew up with. Most of us did not have parents making other meals, and other cultures that don’t accommodate the chicken nuggets and the mac and cheese don’t have picky eating as a phenomenon. Right?

Her children, they’re serious foodies, and they can go to any restaurant, have any type of food. They love food as a family now. And so, the hard work that she put into that it really paid off.

Is picky eating about wanting control?

I want to ask you a question. Because I know when I think of the adults and kids, I can’t help but think that it’s not really about the food. They’re not super tasters. Food is the thing that the child can control, perhaps in a household where they don’t feel like they have a lot of autonomy. Mm hmm. Tell me a little bit more about reasons why kids might want to simply refuse or control their diets and how parents could sort of understand the difference or source or reason.

Lynn Lyons  14:06 

When we want kids to develop autonomy. We want them to take control of themselves, right? Like that’s the goal, I want you to be independent; I want you to be masterful. So, think about the ways as kids are developing that different contents become that place where they are experimenting with developing their own tastes. Taste in music, taste in clothes, tastes in food. That control is often “I’m going to do it my way.”

So, think of it in terms of the little kid who says I’m going to put my socks on by myself or I’m going to pick out my own clothes, or I’m not going to wear that. I’m not going to wear a hat today. The food thing just becomes another area in which, in a positive way, they’re developing some autonomy. It’s just that they do it clumsily.

And if you have a family where there’s not that flexibility for some experimentation, then that’s when it gets really locked in. That’s when it becomes a control issue, you know, you’re going to do it my way. And the kid says, “No, I’m not.” Right?

So, allowing them to have that autonomy and giving them some room to experiment and choose is really great in all sorts of things. But of course, within boundaries.

So, you don’t say to your child, you get to choose what we’re going to have for dinner tonight. And every night, they want ice cream and Froot Loops, right? So, but you can say, we’re going to have a vegetable tonight, and you have a choice. I’m happy to cook peas or broccoli, or carrots, which one would you like? And then everybody has peas or broccoli, or carrots. You can also let kids, once they get a little bit older, they’re allowed to design a dinner menu one night. They’re allowed to pick the thing that they want to eat within boundaries, of course.

That control that comes out, if we look at it in a positive way, that’s a child learning to develop their style, their autonomy, their agency. So, we want to let that happen a little bit. It’s when it gets locked down that then it becomes and parents say, “Oh, well, it’s just control, they’re just a control freak.”

Parents say to me, you know, “My child’s a control freak,” I’m going to be like, “I wonder where they learned that.” So, we want to have some flexibility within the boundaries. And we want to have them have a little control, we just don’t want it to go to that next step.

Kids must feel hunger to develop an appetite

So, choices are good, but not a ton of choices. Right? When kids have a ton of choices, then they get overwhelmed. And then they sometimes don’t make a choice.  Be very aware of the fact that a healthy appetite is developed when you actually feel physical hunger. And so, giving kids constant snacks and little kids, you know, little toddlers, they’re little grazers. But as your kids get older, if you are constantly supplementing them between meals with juice with any kind of sugary snack, they’re not going to develop that appetite, they’re not going to develop real hunger.

I think we’ve all had the experience where we’ve been really, really hungry, and something has tasted delicious. I remember once my husband and I actually went on a hike and we took a wrong turn. So, we actually ended up hiking 26 miles by mistake, and we didn’t have any food with us. And we ended up going to this little Mexican restaurant in the town in Virginia where we were hiking. And we were eating the food and we’re like, this is the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. I actually doubt it. It was like this little it was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I really don’t think it was great Mexican food, but it tasted so good.

So, pay attention to how your kids are eating between meals, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have snacks between meals, but do what Robin says and put out a plate of cucumbers and hummus or put out some apple slices and blueberries. That sugary snacky stuff gets in the way of developing that healthy appetite that when they sit down for dinner, we want them to be physically hungry. It’s really okay for them to have that hunger sensation for sure.

allow kids to be food critics

Robin Hutson  18:25 

You know, for older kids, I don’t know what other families are experiencing. But I’ve noticed the pandemic has had an impact on our family eating as well. But for the for the better. Mm hmm. Because I think about before the pandemic and working parents not putting a lot of time in cooking. It just becomes joyless after a while. Which then perpetuates a cycle. Then you don’t start taking risks, shall we say or you know, making new things.

So, with the pandemic and all of us cooking again in a way that we hadn’t in a while. And by no means every meal of the week. But when I really try have fun and make something I’ve never made before. And I’ve routinely done that the family that they can feel my efforts. My kids are willing and open to trying something.

I’ve made really good things. And I’ve made some okay things, and I give them the freedom of saying this is okay. It’s not great.

I’ve always said that not everything can taste like chocolate cake.

Lynn Lyons  19:29 

 Yeah, it’s just it’s just sort of changing it up. And if there’s something that you know, somebody in your family really hates, if there’s just a food that they know they really hate. There’s no need to cook that and force them to eat it. There’s no prize you get for cooking something that everyone despises and then having a miserable dinner. So, if you know that somebody in your family hates swiss chard, then you don’t have to cook swiss chard for them.

This isn’t being a picky eater

When we’re talking about picky eaters, we’re talking about a very limited palette. But if you’ve got kids that are trying things and eating different things, it is not necessary that you force something they hate down their gullet, right? And so that that’s not a battle that you need to do to win or to even wage. Just so you know that. It’s really okay for them to say, “Mom, I really don’t like this vegetable, or I really don’t like that, and then take it off the menu.” That’s okay. That really is okay.

Make a Picky Eater List

Robin Hutson  20:25 

Getting back to your point of autonomy, one of the things I would routinely do when I felt very, you know, just burnt out about preparing meals, is I would interview each of my kids, and we would get a whiteboard. And I would say, let’s list all the healthy foods you like. So, we go over the proteins, we would go over the fruits, we would go over the vegetables, we would go over all the sides. And we would just think of all the foods that they really loved. And even that they would eat, you know, they would put something on there that they’d tried a couple times, but wasn’t necessarily a favorite.

But then I would have this list that I could work with. And then I would keep making foods off that list and then add one thing, I wouldn’t even draw attention to it. But they felt like I was respecting their taste. And therefore, they had less need to give me pushback on it.

Lynn Lyons  21:12 

Oh, I remember this. I had a mom come in; and I was working with this family on anxiety. I’m going to talk a little bit in a minute about dealing with anxious picky eaters, this mom came in, and she was anxious. And she was really worried that her child wasn’t eating enough and that she had this picky eater and what she was going to do about it.

So, we sat in the session, and I just had the child list all the foods that they were willing to eat. I was like, “Uh, this is not a picky eater.” I mean, it was really there were like 82 things on the list that the kid was willing to eat.

I think the mom was just feeling really self-conscious that there were a few things that the child refused to eat or didn’t like to eat. And so, she was, you know, she was feeling judged, maybe she had gone out to dinner with friends and the other kids had eaten this thing that her kid wouldn’t eat.

I think that’s a wonderful idea is to make that list. And when you really need to be concerned is when there’s like five things on the list. But if there’s 20 things on the list, if your child is eating a few vegetables and a few foods and will eat some proteins and that kind of stuff, you’re doing okay. So, we just want to make sure that that you don’t overreact to this and over panic about it.

What do you say to your picky eater?

Robin Hutson  22:14 

So, what do you do though, when you’ve got one of the kids, they list five foods, and one of them is pasta from the blue box only? And this brand of hot dog cut a specific way.

Lynn Lyons  22:25 

That’s rigidity. You want to address that directly, particularly when you’re little you like things to be repeated. That’s why we read the same book over and over again, they like routine, they like predictability. So, if you’ve found yourself in that place, and I hope we’re saying enough for the parents of younger kids, so that you can head this off a little bit.

But if you find yourself in that place, here’s one of the things that I talk about a lot with families. And this sort of relates to that eating disorder I was talking about at the beginning, but in a in a less severe way.

There are kids that are really nervous, really anxious about what happens if you eat a food that you don’t like. The idea that you could put something in your mouth and not like it that becomes really catastrophic in their minds. And they have a belief oftentimes, that everything they put in their mouth that they should really love, that should really be tasty and yummy and delicious.

And so, you want to talk to kids about the fact that if they try a food, and they don’t like it, that they can handle the sensation of not liking a food. Sometimes what happens though, parents will be like, “Well try the food, just try it, and tell me if you like it.” So, they’ll take a little tiny piece of the food and they’re put in their mouth and they’ll take a little tiny bite, they’ll be like, Yeah, I don’t like it, they’ll spit it out.

You have to make room as you’re experimenting with food with the possibility that you’ll try something you won’t like, and then that will be okay. We want to open up the criteria a little bit. The other thing too, that you can talk about with kids and Robin, you alluded to this is that you can there are certain foods that you eat, and they’re fine. Right?

And I think that’s how my dad feels about every vegetable on the planet. If you say Dad, do you want some broccoli, and he’ll be like, “Sure,” and he knows like, he knows he has to eat his vegetables. But he doesn’t love broccoli. I don’t think he loves any vegetable. I think if he could have hotdogs with the side of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I think he’d be pretty good. But he knows that he’s going to eat things that are healthy, that he doesn’t love. You can talk to your kids in that way, too.

There is a range of food enjoyment and, like you just said, Robin, not everything is chocolate cake.

When picky eating is about anxiety

And then the other thing that I deal with families that I see where anxiety is an issue is that oftentimes, kids won’t try new foods because they have a fear of vomiting. Something that is probably going to need some professional guidance but recognize that sometimes that’s behind it as well. Oftentimes there is a fear of choking, or that they, they tried a food, and they really hated it. For some reason there was something unpleasant attached to that, like a relative shamed them about it, or they felt really embarrassed when they put the food in their mouth, and they didn’t know where to spit it out. So, you might want to talk a little bit to your kids about that.

But if it’s really a severe anxiety about something happening, if they eat this food, then you’re probably going to want to go down the anxiety disorder path with this, rather than the picky eating path. So just a little bit of a distinction with that.

But one of the things I’ve done with a lot of families that have come to see me with this issue is to really talk about it’s okay to experiment. And it’s really okay, if you don’t like the food, and you can put it in your mouth. And so, we want to give them opportunities to have that experience. So, it becomes sort of the therapy, very similar to all of the therapy that I do with worry is sort of what’s the story, you’re telling yourself about this food that you might put in your mouth.

You know, there are some adults who won’t eat any fruits or vegetables. When was the last time you tried a grape? When was the last time you put some watermelon in your mouth, when was the last time that you tried raspberry? They can’t even remember. And so that’s something that we want to talk about is that they’ve created a story about a certain class of foods that doesn’t really have any evidence to back it up. So, we’re going to go after the worry in the same way that we do with other things.

Robin Hutson  26:32 

Do you find it outside of the super taster disorder with the majority of children who have a rigidity around their eating that is going to overlap with an anxious behavior? Or do you feel like you can still be a picky eater and not have these other personality traits? You know, getting big?

picky-eater-kids-picky-eating-disorder
Lynn Lyons  26:52 

Absolutely. You can be a picky eater and not be an anxious person. You do want to pay attention as a parent like is this child very unwilling to take any risks? Does this child really need certainty? Does this child really need things to go exactly as planned? And so, the food becomes kind of a sort of a symptom of a pervasive pattern because parents have become short order cooks.

And if you’re a little kid, chicken nuggets and pizza bites are just more enjoyable than broccoli and baked chicken. But we do see it pervasively. One of the areas where the real aversive  eating stuff shows up oftentimes is kids on the spectrum, because we know that they have sensory issues, and that oftentimes that cognitive rigidity, or that need to have things the same is a pretty pervasive pattern in their little brains. And so, we can see that overlap.

But if you’ve got a kid who’s really able to do this, and doesn’t really show up as being rigid in other ways, that it really is something you want to pay attention to in terms of, or make sure that you’re paying attention to your modeling about food, and that you’re not letting your worry of like, Oh, well he has to eat. So, I’ll let them have chicken nuggets again. Right? See if you can use all of those great tips that Robin was talking about with the vegetables and the fruits and that kind of stuff.

Robin Hutson  28:18 

If there’s a listener who isn’t that familiar with your books, or your work, and they were drawn because of the picky eating topic, but don’t feel like they know that much about anxiety. Mm hmm. There, they might be confused. If they think anxiety presents as classic worry or nervousness talking about anxiety and picky eating, maybe you could just speak a little bit more to the fact that anxiety isn’t manifesting always as worry, maybe you could just speak to that.

Lynn Lyons  28:47 

The demand that anxiety has, the demand that it shows up with is certainty and comfort. And so regardless of where it shows up, regardless of if it’s about school, or bedtime or whatever, anxiety’s saying I have to know exactly what’s going to happen. Because I get very overwhelmed with things being unpredictable or uncertain. When it shows up with food, when it shows up with school, when it shows up with things needing to be a certain way. That’s anxiety, showing up saying I can’t handle unexpected things. So, the bigger skill that we always want to teach and we want to talk to kids about is the ability to manage when things don’t go the way that we expect.

And so, if you see this rigidity showing up in your in your child’s diet, you might see it showing up in other places, too. We really want to have those conversations about we can’t always know what’s going to happen. How do we develop the skills of tolerating uncertainty and being a problem solver rather than letting the anxiety show up and say, in order to keep everything comfortable and everything certain? This is the plan we have to follow.

So, we’re going to expect the worry to show up when we’re stepping into new things. Worry says you can’t handle it. And we have to say  okay, worry, it’s a new thing, and we feel a little nervous about it. But we’re learning how to be flexible, and to tolerate when things don’t go the way we want them to go. And this is the mistake that people make. They make it in schools. We make it with parenting. We make it in all sorts of ways, is that when the worry shows up and says this is how things have to go, we accommodate it. Because we’re just trying to keep the train on the tracks. And that happens, of course, with food. It happens with all sorts of things.

The Circle Can Manage Your Kid’s Screentime

Daughter  

Mom, can I have time?

Robin Hutson   

This is what you’ll hear when you use a circle to manage your kids screen time. What do you think of the circle?

Daughter 

I hate it.

Robin Hutson   

Why do you hate it?

Daughter 

Well, I don’t actually hate it. But I feel like it’s good that I’m not spending as much time on the internet.

Robin Hutson 

It lets you set daily limits for different apps and social media. It also controls your kid’s Wi Fi schedules. And you can adjust age-appropriate filters for searches from little kids to teens. Our affiliate link will get you $20 off a circle. I love it.

Daughter 

It’s still annoying in the moment.

Robin Hutson 

I’m sure it is.

Listener Question

Is Pandemic Stress Playing With Your Kids’ Memory?

Robin Hutson 30:57

So, we have a listener question.

Lynn Lyons

All right.

Robin Hutson 30:59

“Our eight-year-old daughter is remote learning. She’s more of an introverted and studious type. So, we thought this might go relatively smoothly. The first week of school went really well. And we’re fortunate that her teacher’s giving it her all. But starting the second week, my daughter who is typically really disciplined and focused in school is getting really inconsistent with engagement. She clearly needs company throughout her instruction. Because I sense she’s feeling very alone and isolated just seeing her teacher and classmates on zoom.

My husband and I work side by side with her when we can so she isn’t alone for hours. And this week, the tears came. And I’m not even sure she’s ever cried about schoolwork before. My daughter was asked to write a story about a favorite memory twice this week for an assignment, and she came crying to me saying she doesn’t remember anything.

I showed her family photos from before the pandemic and she cries and says she doesn’t remember those moments to write about them. She usually has a memory of steel. So even more surprising is that when she wrote about the events, finally, she did get some details wrong.

It seems we’ve uncovered a hidden stress response to the pandemic and prolonged  quarantine living. I appreciate seven months is a long time for an eight-year-old. And we may have an even longer road ahead. So how do we support her and this stress response? And what should we be saying and doing?”

Lynn Lyons  32:16 

Hmm, poor little muffin. So, if you are eight years old, and you have been going through this for seven months, do the math people. That is a huge chunk of your life; it’s almost a year of her life, which has only been eight years. So, if I took an eighth of my life, and I had been in this quarantine in this isolation for an eighth of my life, that would be a really long time. So, we have to remember that for kids. This does feel like it’s been going on for a really long time.

I think what’s interesting about this to know is that people’s memory is impacted by the current mood that they’re in. So, when you go back to pull up memories of things, if you are feeling overwhelmed, if you’re feeling sad, if you’re feeling depressed, it is harder for you to pull things up and oftentimes harder for you to pull positive things up.

We know that memory is something that is really impacted by stress, it’s impacted by mood. It’s not surprising to me that she was having trouble pulling things back up. The other thing, too, is that it may be hard for her to go back and think of those happy events that involved maybe family trips. Or getting together with family or Christmas time or birthday parties. And I think that kids now are really struggling with the length of this.

There is an article that I have been referencing in a lot of my presentations, which is talking about the biggest impact on kids right now. And young adults as well is loneliness and isolation. School for them was their social interaction. So even kids that are going back into school are talking to me about how hard it is to sit in the cafeteria with plexiglass sheets between them at their tables. And how hard it is to not be able to run up and hug their teachers and how hard it is to not be able to have recess and play all the games that they normally play.

And going back to school in these different ways. I think it’s really important that we’ve gotten kids back into a routine. But the flip side of that it is really putting a magnifying glass for a lot of kids on how different their lives have been over the last few months. This transition from summer into fall is feeling difficult for adults, too, because we know that winter is coming. And so, we’ve all got this sense inside of us. And it’s sort of like how long is this going to happen?

So, I think it’s true, I think you’ve discovered a little bit of a hidden stress response. Because things just feel so different for this little person. And she’s been able to hold it together, you’ve been doing all the things that you’re supposed to be doing, you’ve been talking about it, you’ve been keeping her company.

But the hard part about this for parents is that we can’t undo the biggest part of this, which is that our kids are more isolated than developmentally, they should be. What I would do is I would continue to talk about it give that validation, right, using those two words, of course.

Help this little person think about the future. So, talk about what it’s going to be like, when we can get back to normal or what it’s going to be like, we don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. But what it’s going to be like when we can all be together again, or what can we plan? Where are we going to go? What are we going to do, because we need to keep them focused on the future?

And we need to keep that optimism and that hope alive. Knowing that a lot of this is really normal, and actually, the tears coming are a good sign. Because when we talk about emotional literacy, and we talk about kids being able to identify their feelings, and to be able to express them, good for this little person who’s been able to say to you, “Mom, this is really hard for me.”

We don’t want to have on that happy, smiling face of “We’ll get through this. Yay!” without also making room for “This is really hard.”

And you’re going to have big feelings about it. And know that our functions in our brain, our cognitive abilities, our memory, sleep, all of that is impacted by the length that this has gone on. It is a long time for an eight-year-old. It is a huge chunk of her life.

Kids were really looking forward to going back to school. Even if they didn’t know they were, they were. Because they were looking for that normalcy and that routine. And I’ve been telling families that it’s sort of like they have been walking around in a social, dry desert. They really anticipated that school would be this great big cool drink of water.

And for some kids, it hasn’t been because of all the restrictions. So, they had their hopes up high. And it’s felt disappointing, and it hasn’t quite quench the thirst that they’ve developed in the last six months. So just be aware of that. We want kids to be able to connect, and it just isn’t quite getting them where they hoped that it would be. And it’s sort of that sense of disappointment and let down. You do what you can in your family to end model joy and be silly and be optimistic and at the very same time just make room for those feelings of missing in those feelings of disappointment because they’re real and they’re powerful. And they need to know that they need to hear that.

Robin Hutson  36:26 

Well, thank you so much, Lynn. This was great information and advice for families thinking about picky eating and also just the adjustment that we’re all making to the school year. You brought up some great points.

Join the Facebook group so you can ask your question to Lynn in a future episode.

Lynn Lyons  37:27 

Thanks everybody. Bye Robin!

Robin Hutson  37:29 

Bye Lynn!

Lynn Lyons  37:30 

Should we talk more about the eat your face game? I was like where is she going with that?

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