Picky Eaters and Bullying
Parents want children to socialize with their peers during play dates, after school activities and sporting events. However, if your child is a picky eater, these events can be the breeding ground for bullying.
As a feeding specialist, I work with school-age children that are bullied by their peers about what they love to eat, how they eat it and what they refuse to eat. Let me share a story about my client Lucile (name has been changed for privacy). Lucile is 5 years old and brings her lunch to school. Her lunch always consists of yogurt (in a tube), juice (in a collapsible package with the straw glued to the side), and goldfish crackers (she will only eat them only if they are not broken). She gets teased about her lunch every day. Now, you may think Kindergarten is too young for bullying, but it happens more often then we would like to believe. If your child is experiencing bullying about their picky eating, here are some tips to help.
Prevention: If your child consumes less than 20 foods or will only eat the same foods for certain meals, then your family could benefit from feeding therapy. Sometimes, it only takes 1-2 sessions to get your kiddo feeling more confident about eating something new!
- Therapy: To start feeding therapy, look for a certified Speech Language Pathologist or Occupational Therapist (that specializes in feeding) to help prevent bullying before it happens.
- Evade: Educational experts specializing in bullying tell their students to stay away from places where bullying happens. But with our picky eaters, bullying occurs in the cafeteria, which is a place they unfortunately cannot avoid easily. So, some of my clients will act sick so they can eat in the nurse’s office to evade their bullies. Others refuse to eat anything at school and wait until they get home to consume their favorite foods. And nearly all of the picky eaters I work with have intentionally got in trouble (not true behavioral issues) so that they will get ‘punished’ and have to eat in the principal’s office, their classroom or detention in order to eat in peace.
- Trust: Make sure to include your child’s coaches, tutors, teachers and extended family in your child’s picky eating habits (and bullying experiences if you feel comfortable). Encourage them to help keep an eye out for your child so they feel safe. And talk to your child about choosing an adult they trust at each event (school, soccer, etc.) to intervene on their behalf if they need help with a bad situation.
Communication: We need to arm children who struggle to eat with different ways to communicate with their peers, teachers and well meaning adults. Below are real comments bullies have said to my clients and their brave responses. Note – having candid discussions with your child about bullying and practicing how to respond confidently is key!
Talking to an adult:
- Baseball Coach: “Johnny, you know if you ate something other than baby food you would be a better player.”
- Child: “I have trouble swallowing, so I eat puree foods as a way to keep me safe and off a feeding tube.”
Talking to a peer:
- Peer: “Surprise… Sally is eating the same lunch again!”
- Child: (Making direct eye contact with bully) “You are bullying me. Please stop or I will have to tell our teacher.”
Has your child experienced bullying from peers due to their picky eating? I hope these prevention and communication tips help your child overcome it! #ezpzfun #pickyeater
Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 26 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning Tiny Cup & Tiny Spoon (for infants) and the Mini Cup + Straw Training System & Mini Utensils (for toddlers).