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Increased Feeding Challenges due to Stressful Times and Life Changes

Including the Covid-19 pandemic stay-at-home restrictions, vacations, new schools, a family move, illnesses, etc.

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When children and their families are undergoing major changes in their lives, whether this is related to stress or a positive life event, any child’s eating/feeding can be easily disrupted.  This is even more disruptive for children with feeding/eating challenges. Interestingly, for some children and families, these life changes actually create opportunities for improvements in eating. Whereas for other children and families, a change is more likely to create a serious disruption in the child’s eating/feeding. So let’s take this issue apart and see if we can differentiate between families who do well and those who don’t during changing/stressful times.

*If you have not yet taken the SOS Approach to Feeding (4 Day) Training Conference, some of the strategies discussed below may not be clear to you.  Please consider taking one of our Training Conferences, especially now as they are being offered as Virtual Conferences live-streamed and on-line.  You can check our Training Schedule to find a conference that may work for you.

Issue #1: Routine and/or Schedule Changes

Whether a family goes on vacation, changes schools, or moves to a new house (or goes on lockdown!), the child’s routine and/or schedule has been changed. During times of change, unfortunately, some families will give up previously successful routines, and more often, the schedule goes out the window completely. So the #1 key in any of these situations is to KEEP as close to the child’s usual routine AND schedule that families can, EVEN when children are sick.

Issue #2: Child Expectations Change

Especially when children are sick, we as adults feel sorry for them and don’t expect them to do anything. The less you expect them to do and the more pampering you give them, the more difficult it will be for the child to get back into their usual routine and onto their typical schedule. This is a really fine balance. When our children are ill, they do need to be pampered and they will not be able to participate in meals at the same level. However, especially when we as the adults are stressed (e.g. on lockdown), we may feel even more sorry for our children and feel even more obligated to try and “make everything better” when an illness occurs. “Wow, our kids have already been getting a bad deal because of Covid-19 and now they are sick too! I really need to figure out how to make this better/special”. Do you see how this might lead to overcompensation on a Parent’s part? If you are letting them eat every meal/snack lying down in front of the TV or iPad, it is going to be really hard to come back to the table when they feel better.

Issue #3: The Reason Behind a Change Isn’t Communicated

If a family is making changes to their routine, schedule, or expectations regardless of whether it is a change due to location or illness, they need to make it clear to the child that the family is doing something different because of X and that “we will go back to our usual way when X is over”. Many families do not make it clear to their children that the changes occurring are temporary and for a specific reason. Not doing this makes it harder for many children to transition back to the old way, especially if the new way is easier and more fun.

Issue #4: Stress Decreases Appetite

Any type of change, even a fun one, can introduce a component of stress for a child. The problem with stress (good or bad) is that it activates our Fight-Flight-Fright system and turns on Adrenaline. Adrenaline goes to the appetite center of the brain and tells the brain to turn off the appetite. So the more stressed a child is, the less appetite they will have. The lack of appetite can just make everything that much worse.

How long does being sick disrupt a child’s appetite?

Children who do not have active Feeding Disorders will get sick for 1-5 days. They will often lose weight, especially if they are sick for a longer time and completely stop eating. However, when they feel better, these children will also typically come back to the table fairly easily because they are ravenous. They will eat “double time” and make up the lost weight from being ill AND gain the weight they should have if they had not gotten ill, within about a week’s time frame.

Children who are still struggling with feeding difficulties do not follow this typical pattern as well. They appear to take longer to recover from the illness and to get to the point of feeling better than the other family members who got the same illness. They lose more weight and they do not come back to the table as easily because they do not appear to have the “ravenous” appetite kick back in. Very generally, it takes about 2 weeks for them to gain back the lost weight and potentially another 2 weeks to get back onto their growth curve. This is why it is very important to do the recommendations above to help a child with a feeding problem when they get sick.

Remember, you may need to help break these recommendations into smaller steps if families are having difficulty making these changes. For more information on this, you may be interested in our Advanced Workshop Parents as Partners and our articles about Parent Education and Weaning Families into Recommendations available for our Professional Members


More Information & COVID Resources

SOS Information & Support for Coronavirus

Suggestions for Transitioning to Telehealth using the SOS Approach

Suggestions for In-Person Feeding Therapy with COVID Precautions

SOS Conference Schedule Updates


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