Do you enjoy reading? I do, but I’m not a fan of the romance novel. In fact, I don’t read fiction at all. Although, I do love to read and I just finished reading, “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School” by John Medina. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant.
So, why was I reading a book about how the brain works, in the first place? My book, Baby Bites: Transforming a Picky Eater into a Healthy Eater is about teaching children to love whole foods. Sensory integration is one of the rules Medina listed on the back cover of Brain Rules. It got my attention, because multi-sensory learning is a vital part of the Baby Bite steps. I was curious to see what a molecular biologist had to say on the subject.
I found that Brain Rules has more to do with picky eaters than I expected. Before I got to the chapter on sensory integration, which was Rule #9, I had to read about stressed brains and how they don’t learn effectively, which is Rule #8.
It seems that Jeansok Kim and David Diamond, came up with a three-part definition of what constitutes stress. They say if all three parts are happening simultaneously, a person is by definition stressed. Interestingly, these three parts are usually happening at the table of a picky eater.
Don’t stress out your picky eater!
Medina strengthens this definition with a personal story about his toddler son, who had a dramatic response to a cooked veggie. Let me read his amplification of the three-parts of stress to you: “Part one: There must be an aroused physiological response to the stress, and it must be measurable by an outside party.”
He relates, “I saw this in obvious fashion the first time my 18-month-old son encountered a carrot on his plate at diner. He promptly went ballistic:
He screamed and cried and peed in his diaper. His aroused physiological state was immediately a measurable by his dad, and probably by anyone else within a half mile of our kitchen table.
Part two: The stressor must be perceived as aversive. This can be assessed by a simple question: ‘If you had the ability to turn down the severity of this experience, or avoid it altogether, would you?’ It was obvious where my son stood on the matter.
“Within seconds, he took the carrot off his plate and threw it on the floor. Then he deftly got down off his chair and tried to stomp on the predatory vegetable.”
Part three: “The person must not feel in control of the stressor. Like a volume knob on some emotional radio, the more the loss of control, the more severe the stress is perceived to be… My son reacted as strongly as he did in part because he knew I wanted him to eat the carrot, and he was used to doing what I told him to do. Control was the issue. Despite my picking up the carrot, washing it, then rubbing my tummy while enthusiastically saying ‘Yum. Yum’ he was having none of it.”
We’ve all done the same thing when trying to convince a picky eater to eat a refused food. He then relates the reason behind a typical battle between parent and child, “Or, more important, he was wanting to have none of it, and he thought I was going to make him have all of it. Out-of-control carrot equaled out-of-controlled behavior.”
Medina wasn’t focused on picky eating or he would have written Baby Bites instead of Brain Rules. I’ll just assume his young son’s aversion to carrots was soon conquered. But, Medina aptly illustrates what many families endure on a nightly basis when their child is a picky eater.
The Baby Bite steps transform a picky eater into healthy eater because these three aspects of stress are addressed. Each individual component is important, but when applied in tandem the Baby Bite steps create a force catapulting your child toward healthy eating.
First, the physiological response measurable by an outside party is avoided or at least diverted when eating isn’t the main objective, but learning about food is. Medina said, he “was going to make him have all of it. Out-of-control carrot equaled out-of-controlled behavior.” When force isn’t part of the equation, then the child’s behavior is reasonable.
Secondly, a new food isn’t a stressor as it isn’t seen as aversive. Food is expected to be explored, not eaten the first time it’s introduced.
When the objective is about learning, the child sees food as an adventure, not a stressor. The attributes of a food: color, texture, and smell, are all explored before a child is asked to take a taste.
Lastly, the child doesn’t feel he has no control, because the threat has been eliminated. The objective is learning, not eating. At least at first. In the case of the predatory carrot, eating is a natural step after learning all about it. The child has had time to explore it’s attributes, you’ve talked about the color, texture, and it’s taste.
Exploration is natural and even Medina ends his book by stating, “Babies are the model of how we learn-not by passive reaction to the environment, but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion.” …Come to think of it, he could have written Baby Bites!
All this before I got to the chapter on sensory integration. We’ll have to talk about that another time.