I am constantly receiving emails from our community (parents, friends, baby product inventors, therapists, etc.) asking how to give feeding advice to a friend. Here are a few examples of the questions I receive:
- My friend’s toddler is a severe picky eater. I give her advice and suggestions but she is not willing to hear what I have to say. I can tell that she is starting to avoid me at our neighborhood block parties and play dates. What do I do?
- I feel like my sister-in-law is the cause of my nephew’s eating issues. She shovels food in his mouth and at times even holds his hands down to shovel more food in. He hates mealtime and does not want to come to the table. What do I say?
- My friend’s child only eats applesauce and a few other foods. He eats the exact same thing every day. I’m worried that if I talk to her about it she will be offended. What do I do?
Telling a friend that their child might be more than an average picky eater or that their mealtime style could be adjusted can be devastating news (even if they might suspect it). I have heard countless stories of destroyed friendships due to a friend being too involved and/or opinionated in their child’s eating habits. Bottom line? Don’t give feeding advice. Let a professional handle that. But here are a few tips you CAN do to make your conversation with your friend more successful.
Refer: When I explain to families about the feeding therapy I provide, I use the analogy of a rainbow spectrum. I treat a spectrum of feeding disorders and challenges.
- On one side of the spectrum rainbow, I see the ‘typical picky eater’ that might need a therapy session (or two) to help them overcome an eating hurdle.
- In the middle of the spectrum, I treat a child (and family) that is struggling at EVERY meal with food refusals, mealtime stress and/or selective eating.
- At the end of the spectrum, I help children with extreme food aversion (extreme picky eating) or kiddos with medical challenges (e.g., autism) and even children that require tube feedings while they learn how to eat successfully.
Knowing that there is medical help can ease a parent’s anxiety. Being aware of the spectrum of feeding issues can help you refer your friend to a qualified Speech Language Pathologist or Occupational Therapist that specializes in feeding therapy.
Listen: The most important thing you can do for this friend (and keep your friendship) is to listen. This is hard when you REALLY want to help. Just know that feeding issues will eventually rise to the surface and parents will ultimately seek medical help. I have had so many families that ignored the signs for years (hoping they would grow out of it), then finally started feeding therapy when their child was in their teens! Of course, there would have been better outcomes if their child received treatment when they were 3-years-old, but progress (and the love for food) can still be made!
If You Just HAVE to Share: If you feel like you can’t just listen and you HAVE to express your concerns, here are a few additional tips.
- Be Positive: Share your concerns in an upbeat, non-judgmental way and don’t give advice.
- Keep it Short: Make your comment short and sweet. If you friend wants to talk more about this topic he/she will let you know.
- Let it Go: Share your concern ONE time and let it go! Don’t bring it up again unless your friend asks you about it.
- Offer Resources: Here is an example for you to try: “Sally, I’ve heard you express your concerns about Johnny’s food aversions. I want you to know that I’m here to listen and if you ever want professional help I know a Speech Language Pathologist that specializes in feeding therapy. Let me know if you want her information.”
I hope these tips will help ease the discomfort of an awkward conversation and help a kiddo in your life! Have you been in this situation with a friend? How did your conversation go? What tips could you share with our community? #ezpzfun #feedingtherapy
Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Specialist for ezpz