Picky eating in kids is linked to depression and anxiety

Making food more fun won't necessarily help to 'cure' children's picky eating (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/marcolm)

Making food more fun won’t necessarily help to ‘cure’ children’s picky eating (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/marcolm)

Food is often one of the first areas of life that kids can take control of. They can kick and scream when served anything green, or refuse to eat anything that isn’t served on their favourite plate. They might complain about the smell, the taste, the texture, and wrinkle their little noses in disgust. That kids mess around with food and sometimes refuse to eat it is not anything new. But rather than waiting for children to ‘grow out of it’, scientists are urging parents to do something about it, because picky eating – or ‘selective eating’ (SE) – has now been linked to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and social anxiety. And girls are more susceptible than boys.

The research from Duke University among 917 children aged between two and five found that SE was reported by 20.3%, with 17.7% reporting moderate SE (a restricted diet only) and another 3% reporting severe SE (a restricted diet that limited their ability to eat with others). The study found that “moderate and severe levels of SE were associated with psychopathological symptoms (anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) both concurrently and prospectively”. The more severe the levels of SE, the higher the likelihood of mental conditions. Children with severe cases of picky eating were more than twice as likely to develop depression. Two other significant findings were that high maternal anxiety existed with children who had moderate or severe SE. And severe picky eaters were more likely to be girls than boys.

The researchers even go as far as saying that the term ‘picky eating’ is obsolete when the selective eating is moderate or severe – as the fact that children are eating selectively implies that they need some help. They instead think the condition should be labelled with the diagnosis used by psychiatrists (DSMV) as ‘avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder’. This doesn’t mean parents need to panic if their little one spits out a piece of carrot. It is just a way of remaining vigilant if problems persist or become deeper and more consistent – and seeking further advice and help where needed.

You can check out the full research study here: Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating.

Counselling could give ‘loveless’ households a chance

One in four children grow up in loveless households. (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/smarnad)

One in four children grow up in loveless households. (pic courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/smarnad)

With a quarter of children growing up in ‘loveless’ households – where parental relationships have broken down – the government is calling for more people to seek counselling to work through their emotional issues.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that 24% of households where both biological parents live together are unhappy in their relationship. Growing up in unstable homes can put kids at a social disadvantage in later life, says the DWP, and at higher risk of issues with mental health, substance abuse and lower educational attainment.

“We know that family breakdown – or a damaged parental relationship – can have a devastating impact on children’s prospects as they grow up,” says Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. “Whereas when families are strong and stable, the children tend to have better life chances.”

Conservative MP Andrew Selous, who chairs a parliamentary group for sustainable relationships, adds that people should not feel ashamed to seek counselling support. “We need to remove the stigma around counselling. We have a natural British reserve which assumes there must be some kind of problem if you need counselling. We need people to understand it is essential to their emotional health.”

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More emotional support needed for the 6 in 10 mothers suffering postnatal depression

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don't seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

59% of new mothers suffer the baby blues, but 75% don’t seek support from their midwife (image courtesy of m_bartosch/freedigitalimages.net)

Midwives believe that the main focus of postnatal care should supporting the new mum emotionally, and yet 75% of mothers do not turn to their midwives for help with the baby blues.

A Royal College of Midwives (RCM) survey has found that 75% of midwives think ‘organisational pressures’ determine the number of postnatal visits, while 60% think that mums need emotional support as a priority.

The percentage of women feeling down or depressed after giving birth  is 59%, says the survey, and midwives find themselves having to “paper over the cracks in an underfunded adn under-resourced postnatal environment”, which is having a “detrimental effect on the health of women and children”.

A quarter of the women who completed the RCM survey, carried out in conjunction with parenting website Netmums, say the maternity team had not asked them if they were coping during postnatal visits. Yet 24% of student midwives say they are adequately trained to deal with postnatal mental health issues, and 29% say they don’t feel confident enough to recognise mental illness or emotional illness in women who have recently given birth. The report recommends a review of midwifery training to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with these issues.

Sally Russell, co-founder of parenting website Netmums, says: “There is an urgent need for more support for new mums’ mental health. With over half the new mums in the UK suffering baby blues, we are in danger of letting vulnerable mothers slip through the net and suffer serious mental illness. Many women who are struggling often blame themselves for ‘not coping’, and so don’t necessarily know their midwife can help. As the RCM report shows, it’s vital we train more midwives to help vulnerable women at this crucial time. Every mum deserves to be treated with compassion and have the chance to talk about their mental health as well as their physical health.”

Postnatal depression can be an isolating and frightening experience for new mothers. If you feel you would like counselling support at this vulnerable time in your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com for a confidential appointment.

Could your stress levels today be picked up from mother when you were a baby?

Infants absorb stress and anxiety from their mothers, says research. (pic courtesy of Serge Betasius Photography/freedigitalimages.net)

Infants absorb stress and anxiety from their mothers, says research. (pic courtesy of Serge Betasius Photography/freedigitalimages.net)

Now and again, a new piece of research comes along that explains so much that my counselling clients are experiencing today. Such pieces of research pretty much sum up the reason why psychotherapy exists: to help heal the wounds of our past and come to terms with what was painful on our childhoods.

The issue with the past, however, is that so much of that early wounding happens in a pre-verbal phase. It’s when we are tiny babies when we don’t have words to express what’s going on that some of those hurts can happen. People may think that babies won’t know the difference. But, as adults having a crisis in later life, feeling unable to cope, we can often feel left with an unease that something isn’t right. We just can’t put it into words. It’s just a feeling that keeps playing out in unhelpful behaviours, situations and cycles that they feel stuck in. And some of those behaviours and feelings may be in response to the nurturing – or otherwise – we experienced as infants.

So, what’s this piece of research that I feel resonates with the wounds in my clients? (more…)

Bickering parents affect their kids’ mental health

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Parents who bicker in front of the kids, and fail to resolve their arguments, could affect their children’s mental and physical health, according to a report by relationship charity OnePlusOne.

The study looked at ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ conflicts and how they affected children. In destructive conflict, parents sulk, slam doors or make their kids the focus of the row. Constructive conflict is where parents resolve their differences during the argument.

Destructive conflict can have social, emotional and behavioural effect on kids. They might start to suffer psychosomatic pains such as stomachache and headache. The insecurity they feel can also affect their growth. Kids growing up in this way can be more likely to perpetuate these conflict behaviours when they become parents themselves. 

Report co-author Dr Catherine Houlston says: “If a child sees his or her parents in conflict then work things out, they understand it’s possible for difficult situations to be resolved, and they feel more secure.”

Stories with mother help children make sense of their world

Hearing stories with mother helps children develop their own narratives about their lives. (pic: istockphoto.com/GeloKorol)

Hearing stories with mother helps children develop their own narratives about their lives. (pic: istockphoto.com/GeloKorol)

Mums are better than dads at telling stories to their children about past experiences, which helps kids develop their emotional skills.

This was the main finding from a piece of research called Gender Differences in Elaborate Parent-Child Emotion and Play Narratives. The researchers asked parents of children aged between four and five to reminisce about four past emotional experiences: one happy, one sad, a conflict with a peer and a conflict with a parent.

They found that mothers went into more detail when reminiscing with their children than fathers. They also included more emotional terms, which they then talked about with their kids. This helps children understand, develop and articulate their own feelings and point of view on these past experiences.

The researchers concluded: “Mothers appear to be helping children recount and understand their personal past more than fathers, and specifically, in working through difficult emotions that may facilitate emotion regulation skills.” The storytelling helps the children incorporate their own narratives into their lives.

For many adults who didn’t have such nurturing parents, coming to therapy to talk about their past, present and future can help them construct their own narrative and come to terms with what has happened to them. If you’d like to talk to a counsellor to help you make sense of your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com

Arguing parents make babies’ brains more sensitive to stress

Babies are affected by parents' arguments even when asleep. (pic: istockphoto.com/OSTILL)

Babies are affected by parents’ arguments even when asleep. (pic: istockphoto.com/OSTILL)

Growing up in a volatile household where the parents argue can affect the way a baby’s brain processes emotional tone of voice. Young children can respond to an angry voice even if the arguments happen when they are asleep.

That’s the key finding of a study from the University of Oregon, which did MRI tests on 20 babies aged six to 12 months. While asleep, the children heard sentences spoken in very angry, mildly angry, happy and neutral tones of voice by a man.

The research found that infants’ brains still respond to the emotional tone of voice they hear. “Infants from high-conflict homes showed greater reactivity to very angry tone of voice in brain areas linked to stress and emotion regulation,” say the researchers. They conclude: “Babies are not oblivious to parental conflicts, and exposure to them may influence the way babies’ brains process emotion and stress.”

This could provide an explanation for adults who are more prone to suffering stress, and it may make parents think twice before arguing in front of their kids.

Feeling unloved as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult

Lack of love as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult. (pic: istockphoto.com/nsilcock)

Lack of love as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult. (pic: istockphoto.com/nsilcock)

Adults who perceive a lack of parental love as a child could be more likely to suffer anxiety-related issues.

That was the main finding from a study by the Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy (SICH), which looked at 100 clients with social phobia or agoraphobic-type anxiety over a three-year period. There were 81 out of the 100 who believed their parents never loved them, or removed their love (through divorce, death or working away) before the child was 13.

When parental love was removed the child had feelings of low self-worth, and felt ‘not good enough’ when they grew up. This can lead to anxieties such as fear of driving on motorways, or fear of crowded places. Where parental love never existed (through not showing affection, for example, or where one of the parents was never around) the child lacked confidence, particularly in social situations. This can carry on to adulthood and manifest as fear of public speaking or fear of being the centre of attention.

The sample of clients analysed by SICH is obviously self-selecting, as they all chose to come for hypnotherapy to alleviate their anxiety. But the survey does give some idea of how lack of love can affect the development of a child. SICH says parents should listen to their children, show affection, play with them every day, and stick to boundaries.

One in 10 new mothers experiences obsessive-compulsive symptoms

Most new mums' anxiety about their baby alleviates within six months (pic: istockphoto.com/c12)

Most new mums’ anxiety about their baby alleviates within six months (pic: istockphoto.com/c12)

Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott says the only way to be a good mother is to be a “good-enough mother”. But “good enough” can feel a long way off for new mums struggling with feeding, nappies, sleeping, exhaustion and worries about her newborn baby.

For most new parents, it’s natural to feel some anxiety when their baby arrives. Winnicott adds that new mothers become totally absorbed with their baby “to the exclusion of other interests, in a way that is normal and temporary”.* But that maternal preoccupation can become all-consuming and develop into obsessive-compulsive symptoms for 11% of new mothers between two months and six months after giving birth. This was the core finding in a study by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, which says that OCD symptoms in the general population, by comparison, are around 2% or 3%.

The researchers say that the symptoms are normally due to hormonal changes, or adapting to the ‘stress’ that the pregnancy and birth may have brought on. “It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene,” says study senior author Dana Gossett. “But when it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic.” The researchers classify obsessions as “unwanted and repeated thoughts or images that create anxiety”.

For many women the anxiety can disappear within six months. This article on Yahoo!, Why anxiety is a natural state for new parents, argues that new mums and dads should just be left to get on with finding their own way as parents.

But for other new mothers, OCD can be linked with depression – especially if the symptoms appear a while after the birth. That’s the time to reach for support, where possible. This article by Bryony Gordon in The Telegraph, OCD takes the baby blues to a whole new level, is a touching account of her own experiences with OCD in pregnancy, and how she found support.

The organisation Maternal OCD offers advice and support on obsessive-compulsive disorder in motherhood.

(*quote from D. W. Winnicott, Michael Jacobs, SAGE Publications, London 2008, p. 48)

Praise kids for what they do – not who they are – to build self-esteem

'Person praise' can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic: istockphoto.com/Discovod

‘Person praise’ can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic: istockphoto.com/Discovod

You might think that praising a child with low self-esteem for his or her personal qualities might build their confidence and self-worth. But a study shows that giving this type of praise can backfire, and children can feel shame when they don’t succeed at something.

It’s better to praise the behaviour rather than the person. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Instead of saying ‘you’re great’, tell a child ‘you did a good job’. Being specific about what exactly they did well also helps to build self-esteem. And when they do fail at something, it feels like a temporary setback rather than an utter failure for which they are to blame. The study distinguishes between ‘person praise’ and ‘process praise’. Person praise puts the focus on the self, and therefore the child will blame himself if something goes wrong.

“Adults may feel that praising children for their inherent qualities helps combat low self-esteem, but it might convey to children that they are valued as a person only when they succeed,” says Eddie Brummelman, lead researcher at Utrecht University. “When children subsequently fail, they may infer they are unworthy.”

Shame is an incredibly difficult emotion to come to terms with as an adult coming to therapy. This study gives an interesting insight into the seeds of some of that shame in adulthood. And may spur parents to give a different sort of praise in future.