Psychosocial Specialists

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Evaluation & Treatment: Psychosocial Domain

Authored by: Elizabeth Clawson, MS, PhD, LCP, HSPP, and Feeding Matters

Pediatric feeding disorders often leave family members and caregivers feeling confused and frustrated. Family and friends cannot see or appreciate what the infant or child is experiencing. Parents are often accused of not parenting their child well and are told that the child is just behaving badly. Parents may feel rejected by the child. This has a significant impact on parent–child relationships. In addition, parents are frequently given conflicting advice about how to feed their child. Overall, this leads to a lot of stress for the entire family.

When children are struggling to eat, behavior is their way of communicating that something may not be working the way it should. This is also how they show their like or dislike for certain food. These struggles may be caused by sensory feedback, their skills for managing food in their mouth, or the responses they received from a caregiver. Persistent feeding disorders often lead to children learning strategies to avoid eating.

Parents, caregivers, and medical professionals need to be tireless, observant, and clever enough to figure out the intent and function of the communication. An increase in confidence results in mealtimes that are based on trust between parents and their children. Positive eating experiences build internal motivation, which leads to long-term success.

When You Should Be Concerned

Below is a sample of warning signs associated with pediatric feeding disorders. For a more comprehensive list based on your child’s age, please visit our Infant and Child Feeding Questionnaire© page.

  • Significant weight loss not explained by any general medical or physiological condition
  • One month or more of weight loss or failure to gain weight caused by a failure to eat
  • When lack of food or the presence of a mental disorder does not better explain the feeding struggle
  • Mealtimes are stressful and create family conflict
  • Child has anxiety during mealtime and social events that involve eating

Who Can Help Assess and Treat

Mental health providers are licensed professionals who can diagnose mental health conditions and provide treatment. In most cases, they are a psychologist, social worker, or counselor. The vast majority of mental health providers have master’s degrees, and many hold doctoral degrees and undergo postgraduate training.

What They Do

  • Evaluate how both the parent and child are responding to the feeding disorder
  • Evaluate mealtime behaviors and identify the learned responses
  • Suggest strategies that will strengthen a positive relationship with food and eating
  • Motivate children to participate in the feeding process through various behavioral strategies
  • Identify strategies that promote positive mealtime experiences based on trust
  • Enhance the feeding team’s overall communication

This model addresses all aspects of pediatric feeding disorders. Click the model to learn more.