Why Do We Accommodate?

This is a story of new parents, and putting up with a fussy kid.

My last post included the discovery of a new program–SPACE–Supportive Parenting For Anxious Childhood Emotions–that helps parents of anxious kids to stop accommodating their children’s worries. When we make allowances for behavioral quirks our children have, they get worse.

Owen is the son of Seth and Angela. Owen is six, and for the last four years he has been eating only two foods–dry cheerios for breakfast, and turkey loaf for lunch and dinner. Yes, the above picture is turkey loaf!

Why was he subsisting on only two foods? Because he was terrified of most food. He would gag. He would throw a fit. His parents went along with this behavior because they thought they were helping him instead of stressing him out by requiring him to eat other foods. Things got much harder.

“Going out together as a family was a minor ordeal: Either they packed turkey loaf to take with them, or they hurried home before the next meal. Mostly, the family just stayed in. “If we ran out of it, Owen would have an absolute fit,” Seth said when he and Angela spoke with me (Kate Julian, the author) in February. Once, after a supermarket strike disrupted the local turkey supply, he spent the night driving from store to store, searching for enough meat to get through the week.”

His parents took responsibility for his predicament after their 12 week SPACE training. They said he was a premie, and was in the NICU for a month because he refused to eat, so it was a stressful time for all of them. They were inexperienced as new parents are. “I thought that I was doing the right thing by just keeping him happy and making him comfortable,” Angela said.

One of the first suggestions was to start eating dinner together. The family had accommodated Owen’s pickiness by staggering their meals, so Seth fed Owen and then Seth and Angela ate later. The psychologist said that if they were eating together, the parents wouldn’t have stood for turkey-loaf for four years, every night. The psychologist also said that Owen didn’t have to eat everything his parents ate, but he could choose only among foods on the table–no substitutions. After dinner the kitchen is closed for the night.

The psychologist said her goal was not to have Owen love all food, but to just have him find something to eat in most situations. Owen improved, and the parents stopped bringing turkey loaf every where they went. What if they hadn’t discovered the SPACE program?

Does parenting today mean we have to battle everything? No, we just have to remember to relax, and not make special allowances for our children’s worries and behavioral issues. We help them when we don’t accommodate their fussiness.

I loved the book, “French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for raising Happy, Healthy Eaters, by Karen Le Billon. I posted about it here. The French are passionate about their food and they start presenting fruits and vegetables to their children as babies to start training their pallet. An astonishing quote from the book:

“More than 90 percent of French kids eat their evening meal at home everyday, with all their family members. In contrast , only 40 percent of American adolescents and 55 percent of kids under 11 eat dinner with their families every day. One in three eat with their families less than three times a week.”

One reviewer on Amazon said:

“By instituting some of the rules outlined in this book, we’ve changed our household dramatically. We stopped the fighting. We cooked good meals and started eating together, more slowly, enjoying conversation. We eliminated snacks from our house. We encouraged her to try everything, but didn’t force her to eat it (a “taste” was acceptable, it would reappear on her plate some other night). One snack a day, between lunch and dinner, and only fruit/yogurt/cheese/applesauce/etc. Desserts were for special meals and occasions (where it had previously been a reward for choking down a sliver of carrot). If she didn’t eat, fine, the plate was taken away when the meal was over and she could wait until her next meal. No snacks! (Very quickly, she finally stormed into the kitchen, took back her plate and happily ate everything she had 20 minutes ago declared “yucky!”) We started formal dinners once a week to have fun dressing up the table. She was encouraged to help with the cooking more. Eating is supposed to be FUN and enjoyable!’

“Finally, we changed ourselves. We took the time in the morning to make meals and eat together, as well as the evening dinner. We stopped letting ourselves get frustrated, because we knew that we weren’t starving her (plenty of yummy food was being served), and eventually she would eat when she got hungry and realized that no, a cookie or box of crackers would never be coming.’

“I recommend this book to every parent.’

This doesn’t happen without a lot of mindfulness and hard work. This book takes you through how Karen Le Billion, an American mom, thought children should eat what they want, when they want. She was in for a shock and a lot of stares and a whole mindset change because her family moved to France, a place that made food–its presentation, its wonderfulness, and its importance to our health—the center of its culture. She writes about the food transition that she and her family went through–something she initially resisted and thought was controlling.

Parenting is meant to be a worth it! Helping shape our children’s behavior by not giving into their anxieties will help them learn to cope when bigger and bigger things come along.

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