Address the Social and Emotional Impact of Food for you and your Kids

What is Food’s Social and Emotional Impact?

Therapists assess a child and family in feeding therapy and address their fundamental needs. The first few weeks of therapy focus on educating the family and collaboratively agreeing on a plan that will lead to success and eventually discharge from services.

Basic SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory developed by Dr. Kay Toomey) feeding protocol is a 12-week program. Most kiddos fly right through not always needing the full 12 weeks. Then there are what I call my curveball kids. The kids who are not necessary textbook cases and end up teaching me just as much as I have taught them. I love these kids, they are so brave.

There are many more components to feeding than just oral motor and sensory. That brings me to the basic things that I was taught as a student. When looking at feeding you look at 3 things.
1. Functional (are they physically able to do it?)
2. Sensory (what aversions are they responding to or avoiding?)
3. Behavioral ( what are the behaviors associated?)
I’d like to add a 4th aspect of feeding to review

Social and Emotional Relationship with food

This 4th aspect of feeding impacts all of us, beginning to form as young as 6 months of age. This is the age when feeding becomes a LEARNED BEHAVIOR.  I capped and bolded for all you parents who are picky eaters yourselves; for all the parents who like things neat and tidy and wipe their babies hands and mouths as soon as they get messy. Also, for all the parents who overreact (guilty of this myself) to protective mechanisms such as, gagging and coughing that happens (and you want it to in order to know these protective mechanisms are present and functioning ) when babies are learning to eat solid foods and different textures and consistencies. It is a deeply rooted thing that includes healthy eating, emotional eating, binge eating, poor self-images, traditions, cultural and economic differences.

Our relationship with food is contingent on the first 3 factors listed (functional, sensory, behavior) but it is also highly influenced by our families, peers, culture, and environment. The language surrounding food is critical for both vocabulary and developing perspectives on variable food items. I remember improvising the language with one of the twins favorite picture books by Sandra Boyton. The original image was a Hippo saying, “Ew, broccoli stew”……in my version the hippo said, “Mmmm, broccoli stew!!”
Social Emotional Impact of Food     
My boys actually had tantrums when the other drank the “broccoli juice” from the bottom of the broccoli bowl at dinner.  They read my version of that book since they were 6 months old. They are listening and learning very early on and developing their relationship with food in many different mediums of learning. They include language (both written and verbal), observation (watching family & peers), environmental (opportunities for mass exposure to a variety of foods) and most importantly, experience (being active participants in a selection, manipulation/play, and tasting); notice I did not mention eating. Eating is at the very top of all the layers of foundation a child has to experience before getting to the last step of eating.

Developing a positive relationship with food means acknowledging all the factors detailed above. We addressed the language piece, be hyper-aware of what you are saying and what others are saying about food in the presence of your children. Observation includes your child watching you willingly trying new foods. Buck up ma and pa, take a bite and keep a smile on your face, it’s called good parenting.

The environment is your pantry, your refrigerator, and your local eateries. Try to provide fresh and healthy choices and keep the snacks you don’t want them to have out of the house. They’ll get ample opportunity to snack when they’re out and about. Home is the place where they are developing their palate the majority of the time. When they are surrounded by fresh and healthy food, their palate develops a preference for those bountiful flavors. Synthetic carbohydrates become blah or overly sweet to their palate. It’s like tasting the notably marked difference between Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and fresh tapped Vermont Maple Syrup.

Experience is everything in terms of forming relationships, keep them positive. Acknowledge Developmental Food Play Skills, they’re messy and an integral piece to forming a positive relationship with food. Include your kid’s input, thoughts, and ideas regarding what everyone should eat as a family. When kids are included in the planning aspect for meals, it provides them with the control they need to feel safe with new foods. Kids love to be in “control”, allowing them to assume the control role in the initial stages prevents them from asserting their control at the final stage (eating) by saying, “no, I don’t like that“.

A good place to start is examining your own relationship with food. It’s a dynamic process, examine the layers and identify the components you feel need attention to develop a positive relationship with food. It’s good for your body, brain, and soul!