Life, with it’s constant barrage of novelty and unpredictability, can be quite distressing to those who like things a certain way.
Sophie, like many children, clings to the familiar: food, clothing, daily routines. Changes require forewarning. Often there must be conversations, and sometimes, resistance and tears before she dips her toe in the newness.
Getting her to try a new food, in particular, is a painstaking process. I can’t help but think that picky eating is a feature of privilege. A feature of plenty. Would children who have nothing to eat turn their noses up at spinach? I doubt it. But to the child who knows her refrigerator is full of things she’d rather be eating, she knows she is not a beggar, and therefore, can be a chooser.
I struggle with feeling pissed off about this. I work with a lot of children who don’t have access to fresh, healthy food. So, it irks me when my own rejects it. And though I think my mother pulled the “think of all the children starving in China” card when I was a kid. I refrain. Guilt makes for a very poor motivator. (And the retort in my head was, “Well why don’t you ship this liver off to them.)
So, whereas I don’t exactly force food on Sophie, I do have a taste rule. Another family I know calls it the “no thank you” bite. She must take one substantial bite of something new, before having her more desired food. I make sure a desired food is part of the meal when I plan to do this. I also make sure I have plenty of time for the fit that will ensue. It has taken Sophie up to an hour to sample her unfamiliar serving.
But then, after that, if she rejects it, so be it. There have been a number of occasions where she has exclaimed, “I love this!” So, often, she’s just apprehensive of its newness. Evolutionary psychologists would say this wariness is an adaptive behavior. We should be skeptical of new foods. They could be harmful. Dangerous.
I also make sure that the new thing is not something spicy or too exotic for her taste buds, food that requires a more sophisticated palate than a six-year-old can be expected to have.
And then I introduce it again. And again. And again. Because what we know from research is that a child often needs to try a food over a dozen times before he/she will incorporate it in his/her repertoire.
“Tastes change,” we tell Sophie. Which is certainly true for me. I eat a whole host of foods I wouldn’t have considered touching as a child.
But her resistance to what’s new extends beyond food. Sophie is notoriously stuck in her ways. If she finds a dress she loves, she wears it over and over until it is in tatters. If I introduce a new game that tickles her fancy…she wants to play it every night, ad nauseam. If she reads a new book she enjoys, she’ll read it many times over with the same level of interest and excitement as when she first encountered it.
So, flexibility is something that has to be encouraged to avoid the inevitable meltdown that occurs when that favorite dress is dirty, Mommy is tired, the book has gone missing.
Thus, it was to my great surprise when Sophie and I walked into the mall one snowy day, in search of boots and she suggested that she try on a pair of jeans. Sophie had not worn a pair of pants, since she was old enough to protest. I tried to hide my glee.
“Really? Soph? Jeans. You’ve always hated the way they feel. They can be stiff. How about a pair of jeggings?”
“Mom. The way things feel can change, just the way tastes change.”
The moment was like a crocus poking out of the ground. A first sign of Spring. When an opportunity like this appears, you seize it.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
She fell in love with the first pair she put on. They fit her well. I had never realized quite how long her legs were. It was strange to see her in pants. Shocking really. She looked so much older as she strutted back and forth, modeling them.
“I love them.”
“Are you sure? Because I’m not going to buy a pair of pants that you’re never going to wear again.”
“I promise. I will wear them every single day.”
With that promise extracted, she wriggled out of them, and we took them over to the register to purchase.
I don’t know if has been my persistence in encouraging Sophie to venture outside of her comfort zone, or if it’s simply a natural unfolding that has taken place over time that prompted this sudden spontaneity. But I’m so glad there are signs of Spring.