Picky Eater or Eating Disorder?
Q | One of my fifth-grade girls rarely eats her lunch. Her mom says she’s a “picky eater,” but I’m concerned that she may have an eating disorder. What signs should I be watching out for?
A | Picky eating is common among children, especially younger ones. Though eating disorders for this age group are relatively rare—the CDC estimates them at 0.1 percent—their prevalence is on the rise (and they are more common in girls than boys). Also, picky eating is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, so your observations are important.
Be on the lookout for other symptoms of an eating disorder, such as increased irritability, fatigue, dizziness, and vulnerability to cold. Low caloric intake can adversely affect a child’s behavior and ability to pay attention. If your student’s eating patterns are interfering with her engagement in lessons, her parents need to know.
For a concern like this, a call is preferable to an e-mail. Share your specific observations: when you first noticed the problem, what their daughter has and has not eaten, and any associated behaviors. They may not be aware of the full extent of the problem.
Your student may need to see a physician to better understand what is causing her eating patterns or a psychologist to help develop a plan to promote healthy eating behaviors.
Transitioning to Summer
Q | How can I help some of my students who thrive on routine prepare for their summer schedules?
A | By this point in the school year, you likely have a good idea of your students’ coping styles. Some kids benefit from knowing further in advance how their routines will be changing. It allows them to begin to adjust their expectations and adapt well when the time comes. For others, hearing about changes too far in advance can be distressing and distract them from current activities. There isn’t one single way to prepare all of your students effectively; you need to tailor your approach, and your timing, to the individual.
One great technique is to label when a student has reacted well to a change in routine—in other words, when he or she has shown mental flexibility and acceptance. By pointing out these examples and praising them (e.g., “Great job being flexible about our class having an assembly this morning!”), you help students learn that they can, in fact, go with the flow. They will also get better at doing so.
If possible, enlist parents’ help. Let them know that you are working to prepare their children for summer schedule changes. Share a tip sheet with them, encouraging them to join you in noticing when their kids demonstrate acceptance and flexibility, and praising them accordingly.
Question for Dr. Fernandez?
Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute.
Image: Adam Chinitz