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Throwing Food (Trajectory Schema)

Posted by felicity on December 14, 2014

Many parents presume that a little one sweeping food on to the floor is a sign that they've finished their meal or maybe they are being a little pickle.This may not be the case. Another way to look on this is he could be behaving in a way that reflects his schema.
You can read more about Schemas in our blog post here
Your little one could be showing signs of being in the Trajectory Schema
Spotting the Trajectory Schema
One of the first recognisable schemas in children is the trajectory schema, which is all about repeated movements. The horizontal trajectory is expressed in patterns of movement your baby shows in moving their arms and legs to crawl or kick. The vertical trajectory is expressed in picking things up, posting things and of course, the dreaded dropping of things.  Some parents interpret the repeated removal of a hat a sign they don't like something on their head, but this could be another representation of this schema - the hat falling down is another expression of movement.
This exploration of height, distance and length is not intended to annoy; it is a developmental phase. Swiping things off the highchair, dropping things from the pushchair and wanting them to be retrieved are all identifiable patterns of behaviour and rather than fight it, embrace this developmental phase and accommodate it as much as you can.
Accommodating the trajectory schema through play
Your little one might enjoy throwing things, so accommodate this by allowing them to throw safe things such as soft balls or bean bags. Pointing out birds or aeroplanes in the sky can be interesting since they are moving in straight lines. Many babies are fascinated by floating bubbles and falling feathers due to their movement, again supporting the interest in this trajectory schema.

Feeding the Schema
So now we understand why our little ones are dropping food on the floor, what can we do about it? 

One option is to remove the ability to drop something, so having a picnic can be a fun idea. Of course this isn't always practical so instead try offering foods that support the schema.

Dribbling foods can be fun - Taking a spoonful of something gloopy, such as porridge and letting it drip from the spoon to the bowl can be stimulating. You could of course use your fingers to do this too. 

Soups are great for this as well as yogurt as they enable the food to fall from the spoon to the bowl / table.

Drinking through straws can also satisfy this schema, again because the liquid is being transported from one place to another.

We're sure you can come up with lots more ideas and we would love to hear them!


Read more about schemas and recipes and eating / play suggestions to support them in the chapter "Feeding the schema" in our latest book Worry-free Weaning.

Dr Anna Walton is a chartered counselling psychologist and Felicity Bertin is a registered paediatric osteopath. They work together supporting families with children who have fussy eating habits.


Food & Toys Video

Posted by felicity on December 2, 2014

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This video shows Sophie who is 21 weeks old exploring a ball. The bright colours spark her interest and she explores it further using "generalised mouthing". For babies, toys and food are engaged with in the same way:

1. See something that sparks interest

2. Reach out for it and pick it up

3. Explore it with the mouth

With this in mind, why would you want to wean your baby using baby rice which is beige and not interesting at all? It is far better to introduce bright colourful foods when weaning your baby. After all, how many beige baby toys do you own?

Food Rules and Their Effects

Posted by felicity on November 16, 2014

We all have those moments when we need our little one to do what we ask. It could be that nightmare moment when they refuse to get in the shopping trolley or if you need them to just play on their own for 10 minutes while you hang the washing up. Whatever it is, many parents have found themselves uttering those words...

“If you just do this, you can have a biscuit / ice-cream / fruit bar....”

Short-term, you will probably find that this does the trick and you get the result you hoped for – you might think no more of it. But it’s the long-term effects that are far more important, as they can have an impact on your child’s relationship with food.

Using food to manage behaviour leads to higher rates of binge eating.

A study conducted by Yale University in 2003 found that people whose parents used food as a way of managing their behaviour in childhood had higher rates of binge eating and preoccupation with food. They were also more concerned about their weight and more likely to be yo-yo dieters. Let’s look at some of the possible reasons for this behaviour in the context of food rewards, and what we can do about it.

Why does this happen?

1, If you use food as a reward, then you’re teaching your child to reward themselves with food in life. This means that they may begin to automatically a) ask you for food rewards, and b) turn to food as a reward when they get old enough to control the foods they eat themselves. Every time they do well, for example, they may then reach for a chocolate bar or a piece of cake. It’s not a big leap from there to the ‘food as comfort’ approach. For example, as an adult, they may end up in the situation of regularly telling themselves: “Oh well, I’ve had a bad day, I deserve a cream cake.” Of course, we all do this occasionally, but if it becomes a pattern of coping then you’re looking at someone who manages emotions by eating rather than using other coping mechanisms.


2. Your child will learn that you’re prepared to bargain with them for things you really want them to do, and they will begin to try and bargain with you more and more. You’re likely to start offering more and more, as you end up moving the goalposts and feeling less in control of what’s happening. Children need predictable boundaries, so this won’t help them feel safe in the world, if things keep changing and they are the ones in control rather than you.


3. If you bargain with your child when it comes to emotions: (e.g. Stop crying and you can have a chocolate) then you’re teaching them to manage their negative emotions with food. This means that they are learning to be emotional eaters, rather than learning positive strategies for self-soothing that will give them emotionally healthy skills as adults. Now, we all eat emotionally from time to time and that’s fine, but again, if this is your child’s regular way of coping then they are likely to grow up into adults who over-eat. Parent your child through any distress they exhibit by giving them love, empathy and understanding but not moving the boundaries. Ever.


What can I do instead?

Forget the reward concept – allow your child to choose from A or B consequences.
This means, don’t get into bargaining with something else. Explain to your child that if they choose to do x then there will be y consequence. Give them an AB choice within this so that they are making a conscious choice and having control over the outcome. Here is an example of this in action in daily life:


Example: Jack and Jane
Jane has a little boy Jack and they enjoy going to the park on their scooters with their friends. This one occasion Jack refuses to wear his coat. Jane resorts to physical control to put Jack’s coat on him, which resulted in screaming and crying from Jack who, once the coat is on, repeatedly takes it off. Jane is in the company of her mummy friends and is becoming anxious and embarrassed so resorts to “If you put your coat on we will have a biscuit / lunch at the cafe”. What happened here? Jack was getting upset, as Jane was physically forcing him to do what she wanted. He had no control and began to focus on doing the exact opposite of what she wants, as he reacts to this and tries to reassert his control. This is normal, as he is discovering his own identity.

 Let’s reframe the situation and try a new approach:

Jane knows that Jack’s desire to be part of a social group with his friends is greater than his desire to not wear his coat. Through this, she is able to get what she needs (Jack to wear a coat) whilst also enabling him to have control over the situation.
Jane came down to Jack’s level and explained “You have a choice: You can either wear your coat and scoot with your friends or you don’t wear your coat and you hold my hand”.  It doesn’t take too long of holding Jane’s hand for Jack to choose to put his coat on and get scooting again. 
The important thing here is that Jack is making the choices. He experiences the consequences of choice A (i.e. don’t put on the coat and then hold on to mummy’s hand) and decides he would prefer the consequences of choice B (i.e. put on the coat and play with his friends). There has been no battle for control here and Jack has also learned that choices have consequences.

 This isn’t a miracle – it’s science. It’s how your child’s brain works. 

The innate need in them to fit in and be part of a group will usually triumph in the end, and even if it doesn’t, your child has made their choice and so you’re not engaging in a power struggle. Knowing what your child’s priorities are can help you to understand how your child sees the world. You can then use this knowledge to parent them through difficult moments while still allowing them to make their own choices.
Tip: Don’t get into bargaining. And leave food out of it.

 Scrap the “Clean Your Plate” statement

People who remember being told to “Eat everything that’s on their plate” were more likely, in this study, to be unsuccessful at dieting.  Encouraging a child to eat beyond their feeling of fullness can increase their likelihood of overeating as an adult. Instead of tuning in to their feelings of hunger and fullness your child is overriding this and eating an arbitrary amount, either to get the reward at the end or to please you. 

If that reward at the end is dessert then they’ll end up overeating even more. If dessert is a reward, then you’re also creating associations with ‘good’ and ‘bad/boring’ foods that you don’t want for your child, plus your child will deliberately start to eat less of the ‘boring food’ to save room for the ‘good food’. If that happens then you’ll end up having more and more of a battle to get your child to eat their main course. 

Your child will start to associate eating with feeling pressured, and this is not the kind of association you want to create.


Tip: Give your child permission to make mistakes in eating. They will under-eat and be hungry and over eat and get tummy ache or vomit. The key is allowing THEM to make the decision and learn from it.


Monitor your child’s food over a week, not a day.

A child’s need for calories each day fluctuates. Lots of things influence it, including daily activity and even the amount of sleep they may have had. It’s unlikely that you will know how many calories your child has expended on any given day and how many more they need - or even whether they are preparing for a growth spurt and so storing calories in preparation.


Tip: Tell your child before a meal that there will be dessert and they need to “save” room. If they under-eat their main meal to save room then see that as a positive. NB: However, do not offer dessert every meal, so that you don’t get the problem described above (i.e. habitual under-eating to accommodate sweet things).


Puhl, R. M. and M. B. Schwartz. 2003. “If You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie: How Memories of Childhood Food Rules Link to Adult Eating Behaviors.” Eating Behaviors 4: 283-93.

Read more about preventing and managing a fussy eater and how to support them in our latest book Worry-free Weaning.

Dr Anna Walton is a chartered counselling psychologist and Felicity Bertin is a registered paediatric osteopath. They work together supporting families with children who have fussy eating habits.



Palates, Like Children, Grow!

Posted by felicity on November 15, 2014

So you’ve lovingly slaved over that lasagne and your little one gobbles it up with a grin. You serve it up again the following week and it’s turned down with a look of disgust. What is going on? It’s quite simple – at this age, your child doesn’t know what they like and don’t like.  

Taste Preferences in Young Children are Unstable

Research recently conducted with a group of under 5’s offered them 5 flavours of ice cream and asked them to rate the flavours. The next day they repeated the task and each day they rated the flavours differently. 


Don’t believe them when they say “they don’t like it”.

The same research conducted with a group of over 5’s showed a more stable palate in terms of their likes and dislikes and they rated the flavours the same both days.

Other research was conducted on parents this time to see if they could spot which foods their children would and wouldn’t try. They were wrong! Despite spending mealtimes with their children and hearing repeated refusals or requests for food, most parents were wrong when it came to spotting which foods their little ones would try. Children who had refused broccoli were happy to try it, proving that children are fickle when it comes to claiming their likes and dislikes. If they won’t try it or don’t like it today, it doesn’t mean they won’t like it or try it tomorrow.

Many parents are wrong when they think they know which foods their kids will try!

I Like v I’m Willing To Eat 
There’s a difference between what your child “likes” and what they’re willing to eat. Your child may like sausages and fish fingers but that doesn’t mean they’re not willing to eat mackerel or broccoli. There is no diet or eating regime for a fussy eater. If you continue to feed a narrow palate you will reinforce a narrow palate. A flower needs to be regularly turned to the sunlight else it grows bent and crooked in one direction - the same applies to the palate. It needs to stimulated and encouraged to grow in many directions else it will be stunted along a single path.

If you continue to feed a narrow palate you will reinforce a narrow palate.


Get Used To Rejection
You’ve cooked up a fabulous meal and your little one has refused it. Get over it! Take rejection in your stride and don’t make a big deal out of it – you could find yourself entering a battle of wills and at the end of the day short of prising your child’s mouth open and forcing the food in (not what we’d recommend) you can’t force them to eat it.
Don’t Offer An Alternative
Now this is the hard one since many parents hate the thought of their child going hungry and serve up maybe just a bowl of yogurt or something just to make sure they don’t go hungry. Don’t do it! You are in a great position here to teach action-consequence and by recognising not “trying” the food on offer will mean no food until the next mealtime is a common and often necessary situation to find yourself in. Yes they will get hungry but that is a developmental leap – recognising that “not eating = hungry”.
Play Fair
Now with all this in mind, don’t go serving up tripe and then saying “that’s all there is”. Your child is entitled to make choices so ensure there are multiple foods available on the plate, such as risotto, broccoli and green beans so your child can retain control over choosing to eat one thing or not the other. It’s a bit like “everyone’s a winner”. You’re happy because the green beans have been eaten and your child’s happy because she’s only eaten the green beans and left everything else. Sound petty? Yes – but we’re dealing with children whose brains are still developing so pettiness is going to be around for a long time yet.

Make at least 3 different foods available on each plate of food.

It can be good to talk to your child before serving the meal about what to have. We are big fans of A-B choices in all aspects of parenting so your child gets used to choosing from 2 things. Asking before dinner “would you like peas or sweetcorn” means you’re ensuring they’re getting veggies and your child chooses “peas” means they have had some say in the food on offer. Because they have chosen it they are far more likely to try it. Repeat this A-B throughout all aspects of your life. “Would you like to walk or take the buggy?”; “Shall we go on the slide or the swing first?”; Shall we read book A or book B?”. Your child will get used to making these decisions so when mealtime comes along it will be natural to choose from a choice of food.

Offer A-B choices in all aspects of parenting.

Always make sure there is something on the plate your child can choose to eat – don’t go serving up a plateful of new foods or foods you know they won’t like. If they will eat peas then maybe pop a small serving on the plate so they can choose that if they like.
At the end of the day, feeding the “right” foods to a fussy eater is never going to work since fussy eating isn’t about the food. Once you get to the root of the real problem and deal with it in the right way – whether that be control, attention, neophobia or other area then the fussy eating will sort itself out.

Read more about how to manage common fussy eating difficulties in our latest book Worry-free Weaning.

Dr Anna Walton is a chartered counselling psychologist and Felicity Bertin is a registered paediatric osteopath. They work together supporting families with children who have fussy eating habits.


Busick, D. B., J. Brooks, S. Pernecky, R. Dawson, and J. Petzoldt. 2008. “Parent Food Purchases as a Measure of Exposure and Preschool-Aged Children's Willingness to Identify and Taste Fruit and Vegetables.” Appetite 51: 468-73.
Coulthard, H. and J. Blissett. 2009. “Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Children and Their Mothers. Moderating Effects of Child Sensory Sensitivity.” Appetite 52: 410-15.
Dovey, T. M., P. A. Staples, G. E. Leigh, and J. C. G. Halford. 2008. “Food Neophobia and 'Picky/Fussy' Eating in Children: a Review.” Appetite 50: 181-93.
Liem, D. G., L. Zandstra, and A. Thomas. 2010. “Prediction of Children's Flavour Preferences. Effect of Age and Stability in Reported Preferences.” Appetite 55: 69-75.

Food is an extension of toys (Feed the schema)

Posted by felicity on November 14, 2014

Feeding the Schema

What are Schemas?
Schemas are patterns of repeatable behaviour which can often be noticed in young children's play. By exploring and practising their schemas, children become more knowledgeable about the world around them. Schemas are part of children’s motivation for learning and are a direct reflection of children’s interests and lead to children engaging in and exploring concepts associated with them.

How are schemas useful?
Understanding schemas are useful for helping to understand a child’s motivation for doing something, and that includes eating. Identifying the schema allows you to extend their learning by matching learning opportunities based on their individual interests. For example, if you have a little one who’s interested in transporting things you might say he’s exhibiting the Transporting Schema. If you’re playing in the sand, you’d have greater success at engaging his interest by having him move sand in buckets and trucks rather than digging or burying objects in the sand.

It makes sense therefore to take this schema and apply it to engage their interest in eating. Food merely is an extension of toys in the way a child learns.

One of the earliest ways your child will learn about their environment is through their mouth and food and eating is an extension of that
The way a child interacts with a toy is to:
  1. See a toy that sparks their interest
  2. Reach for the toy
  3. Put the toy in the mouth to explore it
So why not take this process and apply it to the process of eating – an activity we do 3 times a day?
This is the way a child interacts with food:
  1. Sees some food that sparks their interest
  2. Reaches for the food
  3. Puts the food in the mouth to explore it
It makes sense therefore to start off by offering bright colourful foods which will spark their interest rather than boring old beige baby rice- we don’t see many beige baby toys on the market, and now you can probably see why since it won’t stimulate their interest to interact with it. Serving up bright, colourful foods and giving your child the opportunity to choose them is a extension of learning and will encourage your child to get off to the best start in life developmentally
It is easy to see how some children may go through a phase of becoming a fussy eater when they would rather be down from the table playing than sat at the table eating. So why not continue with food being an extension of play and create delicious meals targeting your child’s schema. We don’t mean putting foods in patterns of cars but serving up home-cooked food that compliments your child play.

Read more about schemas and recipes and eating / play suggestions to support them in the chapter "Feeding the schema" in our latest book Worry-free Weaning.

Dr Anna Walton is a chartered counselling psychologist and Felicity Bertin is a registered paediatric osteopath. They work together supporting families with children who have fussy eating habits.