It has been quite a while since I did any updates here related to my youngest daughter’s eating challenges. I posted a little something on Instagram last week and thought I should write more here. I know many of you have kiddos with similar struggles and it is helpful to hear you are not alone.

When we arrived in China (almost 5 years ago), I thought she would try new foods pretty quickly. She didn’t.

I thought once she was settled in at home, she’d be ready. She wasn’t.

After several months of no progress, I joked that I was sure she’d eat a hamburger by the time she was 16.

And then years passed. Smoothies and mashed food for nearly 4 years. I stopped joking she would eat pizza one day and came to terms that it was just fine if she never did.

And then things changed. In some ways I look over at her now – eating a turkey sandwich – and I think, “Wow, all the sudden she is eating food with is!”

Aprilfood-01The thing is – she isn’t all the sudden eating with us. It has been years of therapy. Years of getting my hands on anything and everything related to oral aversions. It has been years of second guessing ourselves and wondering when to push and when to back off. She didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to eat a turkey sandwich – it was a long process.

I know there are other parents out there wrestling with similar issues and they are searching for any help. Any answers. Today, I want to share a few tidbits that helped us..hopefully it will help someone else – someone, who like me stays up late scouring the internet for ways to help her child.

Aprilfood-021. Progress was slow. A counselor, who works with kids who have gone through trauma, told us early on that often when a child is making progress in one area, that child will seem to stop making progress or even take steps back in another area. This has been so true for our girl. She made HUGE leaps forward related to physical development soon after coming home. Next, she made some steps forward related to eating. Then eating progress seemed to revert as she tackled speech. Over the last three years, she has made mind blowing progress related to communication. It seemed like as soon as she was right where she needed to be with communication, she was able to start making big strides forward with eating. In the moment, I often did not recognize the different areas she was making progress. It is much easier to see the big picture of it all now.

Aprilfood-042. Progression. The progression that worked best for her was:

  • Getting comfortable looking at food
  • Being okay with food just on a plate in front of her
  • Touching the food on her plate with a spoon
  • Touching the food on her plate with her hands
  • Touching the food to her lips
  • Placing the food in her mouth and then spitting it out
  • Chewing the food, then spitting it out
  • Chewing and swallowing the food
  • Once she was comfortable chewing and swallowing, each day we had her try one bite of something new.
  • Once she could take one new bite a day, we kept increasing the amount until she could eat a meal with us.

I would say each phase took several months. A couple of the phases took an entire year.

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3.  Never ‘forcing’ her to eat or try things. I lost count of how many people suggested she was just being stubborn and we were being too easy. Unless you are in the field of oral aversions and childhood trauma (as a parent, counselor, therapist, doctor), I don’t think you can truly understand how traumatic eating can be for a child with very deep fears. It is easy to pass judgement and a lot harder to sit down and really listen to a parent who is walking through difficult stuff with a kid. My girl could only drink smoothies from a special bottle for a few years. I got all kinds of not-so-nice looks from other adults, who saw her drinking from a bottle. Enter Taylor Swift and a constant Shake It Off in my head.

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4. We tried a few different methods and read several books, but none were a deciding factor of change. A few that we gleaned wisdom from were Love Me, Feed Me, The Connected Child, Chewy Tubes (these did help her build jaw strength, we tried the Jaw Rehabilitation Program – great suggestion by her speech therapist).

All in all – it took time. It took patience. It took being very intentional and not just giving up. She still struggles. She still doesn’t like to try new food. It still takes patience, being intentional and not giving up. However, she has come incredibly far. I am so proud of her. She is pretty proud of herself too. And she should be!

Aprilfood-06For more posts related to her food journey, visit my Instagram hashtag #mylittlefoodwarrior

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  • Mrs Mike - I wanted to cry as I read your post, as I can relate on so many levels. My youngest child has bipolar and manic depression disorder, but is also very border line for aspergers. As such, he has had aversion to certain foods his entire life. Until about a year ago, he couldn’t eat any meat that had a bone in it. He didn’t eat ‘shiny’ foods (fatty foods). Some foods had too much texture for him and would literally make him gag. I kept hearing how I was babying him because he was the youngest. Many times I’ve heard I just had to “make” him eat what was on his plate. At first it made me angry. They didn’t know how much we struggled his first few years of life. When he was finally diagnosed at age 8 with bipolar and manic depression, helpful family members finally backed off some. But the world really feels it has a say in how you parent your kids, whether they know what’s going on in their lives or not. Very few people realize how much a struggle a simple meal out in a restaurant could be. At almost 14 now, he has come SO far. His therapists have helped him overcome so much and taught him coping skills to better help him manage on a day to day level. Just the other night, at his 8th grade dance, he sat through fireworks for the first time in his life without having a complete panic attack.

    So I just want to thank you for your post. It really touched me, and I’m so happy that she’s reaching new milestones.

  • Jamie Burdorf - Thank you for this! One of my twin boys was born with kidney disease and a lot of times they have oral aversions because they always feel sick to their stomach and don’t eat. My son, Blake, who just turned six is FINALLY eating about 75% of the foods we put in front of him (still doesn’t like carrots/celery/other hard veggies). It is so hard to comprehend why they can’t just eat because it is something so much deeper than that. Thanks again and YAY for progress!! –Jamie

  • Kim B. - She is so lucky she is part of a family who works so hard for what will help her develop the best– the patience and determination it has taken, and keeps taking from all of you. You guys are quite the team!

    And bless you for sharing the information in the hopes that it can reach someone else who is struggling with how best to help their child. You are always so generous.

  • SentSue - You,Ashley are an awesome momma! God has blessed you with incredible patience. So glad she is doing well and has found you as the family He planned for her.

  • Crystal M - Thanks, Ashley, for the update on your daughter! I was thinking about you & her the last couple months. Our daughter has started eating too! Praise God for continued healing and growth in both our families!

  • Angela - I don’t have children with food aversions, but it is fascinating to hear about/learn about these issues. Out of curiosity and desire to learn, are her food aversions due to her cleft palate or does it stem from time in an orphanage? Or maybe both? Do you have to make separate meals for her now that she eats solid foods? Or just encourage her to eat as much as she can handle out of what is presented for the whole family? Again, I don’t ask out of judgement, just out of genuine interest.

  • Byron - Blessings!

  • Karen Choat - I read your post about about working with her on various challenges and I read another blog 71 Toes, and how they work with their youngest who is going blind and I marvel at how God has placed these special children with exactly the right parents to help them navigate life.

  • Stefanie - Thank you so much for sharing on this, friend. So little is shared and yet it’s so difficult as a mom to struggle with a child with oral aversions and anxieties. I can only imagine how incredibly proud you are of your girl – amazing how far she has come! Way to go, mama!

  • debi - she is very blessed to have found a wonderful family who love her and are willing to do what is best for HER, without judgment or pressure, in her own time. you are a beautiful example of unconditional love.

  • Kati Wallace - Hey there!
    Thank you for posting about your daughters food struggles. Our China girl has been home about 4 1/2 years. She’s come a long way, but still only eats select foods. The jaw rehabilitation program you spoke of sounds like it would help her. Did you have a therapist help with that or was it something you could do at home with her?
    Thanks!! Kati

Last week I shared that several of my kids were working towards a memory challenge as a part of the homeschool community we attend. I also shared that my oldest daughter was having the hardest time – lots of tears and lots of wanting to quit. Her older brothers had all gone through the process before and were so encouraging. Several of you asked about how I pushed her to get past the point of wanting to quit. I thought I would do a little interview with her and let her share her perspective.

On Tuesday she completed the challenge and I’ve never seen her so proud of herself or outright giddy. It is awesome! I am so proud of her.

In regards to pushing her to tackle the challenge – the bottom line is I knew she could do it. I knew deep down she wanted to do it. I also knew it would take a lot of help from me and I was in a position I could offer that help (though many days I wanted to quit too!). It is a fine line in parenting to know when to push and when pushing does more damage than good. I think it boils down to really knowing your kids and being willing (and able) as a parent to do your part to help them with whatever it is they are working towards.

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I asked her a couple of questions about the process. I’ll add my input too.

Why did you want to give up?

Because it was too hard.

How did it feel when you wanted to stop, but I kept pushing you to keep trying?

It was really hard and frustrating.

For about 2 weeks she daily struggled with wanting to quit. Most days she was just feeling overwhelmed. A couple days involved big tears and then coming out of it. I kept a close eye on her and tried to be extra aware of her emotions and what was causing the tears. She was facing mountain that felt impossible to climb, but each day she made significant progress. I tried to constantly and consistently show her how far she had come.

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Was there anything I did or said that was helpful?

Yes. When you told me I would be able to stand on a stage, make a video, get a medal and pick a special place to go celebrate. I wanted to do the fun things and be on the stage!

The girl loves a stage. Her goal was to get to stand on stage at the closing ceremonies for our homeschool campus. My goal was for her to learn and know deep in her bones she could do hard things. I think it is important to recognize we are not all motivated by the same things or even want the same things. Being on a stage would be a punishment for me, but for her it is the stuff dreams are made of. 

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If you could tell other parents anything about helping their kids when they want to quit, what would you tell them?

You can just say, “If you try, you will get to do something fun and afterwards you will be really proud of yourself.”

Fun. She is motivated by fun. Just like her daddy 🙂 Each year I take the kids that do the memory challenge on a fun celebration date – last year it was an hour at SkyZone with me. They are discussing this year’s celebration date.

If a kid is trying something hard and wants to quit – even cries because it is so hard – should the parent let their kid quit?

No, because you know that they can do it. If you think they can do it, they probably can. You have to just keep pushing them. That is what my mom did.

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Did you get upset at me for pushing you?

Yes, because I really wanted to quit. Then after a little while I really wanted to do it, but it was super hard. I asked you to help me and you did.

How did it feel when you finished and you realized you did it?

I was SUPER happy. Once I got home I wasn’t tired for a long time. I stayed up late because I couldn’t go to sleep.

She was literally running circles in our front yard in the dark.

MemoryMaster-04

Do you want to try hard things again?

Yes, because I know I can do hard things. That was just the beginning of hard things. There will be much more harder stuff, but at the end I know I’ll be really proud of myself and I’ll get to do something really, really fun.

I’m a Memory Master. BAM. WHAT!

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I’m thankful for the facts and information she knows, but that is not most important to me. More than I want my kids to be textbook smart, I want them to be life skills smart. I want them to love learning and know how to learn. I want them to face mountains and tackle those mountains even when part of them wants to turn around and run.

She can tell you 100s of grammar, math, science, history, latin, geography and timeline facts – all of which are valuable. However, she can also tell you that she can do hard things and she isn’t so afraid of the tasks that seem impossible anymore. Parenting is hard. Watching your kids struggle is hard. Knowing when to push is hard. BUT goodness is it all worth it. Seeing her smile and knowing her perspective of what she is capable of has forever changed is completely worth all the hard moments and tears.

She can do hard things. And now she knows it. Bam.What!

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  • Anniken - What kind of memory challenge was it? Like what did she have to learn? Seems like something my kids would love to work towards…

  • Tiffany - AWESOME LESSON!! It’s so important to be well rounded not just book smart, the facts are just the icing on the cake. BAM. WHAT! (Disney show right?, haha!)

  • Beth - Love the jubilation on her face! Way to photodocument this accomplishment!

  • Crystal Jolley - This is so awesome and encouraging!! Also made me think that YOU do hard things, too. She has an excellent example! That’s one thing I’m always motivated by from your stories here and am challenged by…it all shines through – your discipline, staying consistent and being intentional with your children in so many aspects. 🙂

  • Tara - Thank you for sharing this – such a encouraging post for parents AND kids. We don’t homeschool but I’m interested in supplementing with something like this. Can you tell me what you program you use and where you got the cards? I know you’ve mentioned this before but I couldn’t find it when I searched your site. Thank you! Please congratulate your daughter on an amazing accomplishment!

  • Jessica P - So great! Congratulations! I’m proud of you both! 🙂

  • Debbie C - What an awesome lesson to learn! And thank you for the reminder that we are all motivated by different things. I guess a key is to know what will motivate each child to push through the hard work. Love this “interview”. ?

  • susie - Tell her thanks for the interview! It helped me today, we are starting a business and sometimes it feels so hard, but I just have to keep on!

  • SentSue - Congrats Sweet Pea! So proud of you and your love of life is inspiring even for an old person like me!

  • Ethel White - Awesome, girl. You should be very proud of yourself, glad you are!!!

  • Emily Bartnikowski - Woohoo! Way to go Firecracker!!

  • Ellen - This post and the previous one days before the memory challenge were so encouraging to me. We’re in our second year of the same homeschool program, and we haven’t braved this final memory challenge yet. I know my child could do it but I’ve struggled knowing how to approach it. I’m inspired to do the hard parenting work next year to make it a reality! Thank you and congrats to all your memory masters!

  • Sandy Anderson - I would also love to know more about the memory challenge she completed!

  • corinne collins - Maybe you’ve mentioned it before…but what and where did you get those cards? we use Red Apple reading now thanks to you and love it! Thank you for all the encouragement on homeschooling! Its always nice to hear about it.

  • jenny - oh, how i love this! it reminds me of an article i read in taproot magazine recently… the woman’s father had taken a picture with her on the summit of a mountain and wrote on the back “girl can climb mountains without complaining”. that photo and the caption had quite an amazing impact on her life 🙂 i love that you interviewed her for the post. it was so fun to hear it from her 🙂

  • Neha - That she kept going is what is important..:)…I too would like to know about the Program. n the Flash Cards..

  • Sophia - Can you tell us what flashcards/program you use? Sounds like a great summer activity/challenge.

  • Julie - Congrats!! My nine-year-old just completed his first Memory Master and he’s so proud too! I really agree with you; way more important than all those facts he learned was the character building this year that came of setting a goal, working really hard for it and not giving up, and seeing himself achieve the goal.

  • Krystin - This is soon amazing! We too are part of the same homeschool co-op and I haven’t been brave enough to even think about Memory Master. But Im thinking next year is the year 🙂 Congrats to her and to you momma for keep on pushing her a long!

  • Amber - I was on the train (homeschool trip) yesterday and the kiddo in front of me was practicing for mega memory master (all three cycles)… it was amazing! Congrats to your girl and to you for knowing her and what she can do!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh Firecracker! I’m so proud of you! Great, great job! Wish I could see you up there on that stage! I know you’ll rock it!

  • Jillian - I LOVE this. I was going to wait a couple more years to begin Classical Conversations, but I may need to up this timeline. I really love hearing you share about your homeschooling days. It is such a motivation. Thank you for letting us peek into your school day! <3 I wouldn't be mad if you did it more often. 😉

I took the girls to a birthday party over the weekend. One is a fashionista. One lives in athletic wear. They celebrate and laugh at their differences. They don’t compare or try to be like each other – they simply embrace their uniqueness and see those differences as strengths. I love that. One also dabs for every picture now. I guess her ‘throwing the deuces phase’ is over.Processed with VSCO with a6 presetPrior to having my own kids I assumed kids from the same family would be fairly similar. There would be the introverted ones and the extroverted ones and basically everyone would fit into some version of those two categories. It is funny to think back on my assumptions. I could not have been more wrong.

One of my favorite aspects of parenting is watching the unique personalities and interests of my kids develop. It is still incredibly fascinating to me how 5 kids raised in the same house, by the same parents, under very similar circumstances can be vastly different. Sure, there are the things that make them very ‘Campbell’, but goodness are they different.

Recently, my oldest daughter came downstairs for breakfast and looked over at me. “Mom, if you ever want me to help you pick out outfits…and accessorize you, I am happy to help you.” Standing in my running shorts and t-shirt, all I could do was laugh and look over at my youngest daughter, who was dressed just like me. Kids are so rad.

Being a mom is my favorite.

girls

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  • Kelly - I love this post AND those last two photos!! Fantastic! We are in a bit of a tough season here (kids AND parents) and I want to enjoy my kids even in the midst of unpleasantness and sin rearing it’s ugly head! Trusting God to see us through these phases and stages of growing up and that they will all end up faithful to Him in the end still learning and growing and rooting sin and selfishness out of their lives just as I am having to do at 40! Thank you as always for your perspective and encouragement and for not keeping your words and thoughts to yourself but for sharing them with us! There is power in community! This is also a good reminder to me as I try to let my small kids be their own people and to celebrate the ways they are different from me! Kelly

  • Byron - You should go on a shopping spree with her and see what she picks out for you!

  • Maureen - My favorite, too. Loved this post. I grew up one of four so I was pretty sure there would be lots of differences, but am still amazed. How different, how alike. How much they love each other, and us and us them.
    Being a mom, just my favorite thing.

  • Nicolet - Great isn’t it. I have only one child. But I really like it to see the things he’s like his father, things that are like and the unique things he has. I love him now(8jears), but also just can’t wait to see him get older and see what will develop more in him

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Goodness – I’m sitting here at a doctors appointment catching up on your blog and I’m so glad. You remind me of the good things… the really, really good things!

  • Haley - LOVE this! I have a 4 year old and a 7 month old and I’m quickly learning how different they can be. I love seeing their differences and similarities. I also love seeing what ways their like me and what ways they’re completely opposite (who taught my daughter to love dresses and pink?!) Kids are pretty rad!

  • Arifa Ashraf - You just wait, Ashley, your youngest will turn into such an Audrey Hepburn in her teens- trust me, I was such a total Tomboy myself- I NEVER ONCE played with a doll or dressed up princess, but now, as an adult, I couldn’t be more feminine. I have seen time and again tomboys turning into girly girls- and we have the additional benefit of understanding men so well- we relate to them so well somehow- it must have something to do with sort of being boys ourselves as children. My friends always came to me for help with me and were amazed at how I could just explain and then predict their boyfriend’s/husband’s behaviour. Watching your youngest evolve and grow will be something beautiful, you mark my words! And she may even turn out to be be naturally talented at things deemed typically ‘male’ like physics, mathematics and other abstract sciences.

  • Arifa Ashraf - with their boyfriend’s/husband’s*