Dusk settles over the house and the air is heavy with tension. In the kitchen, two pans bubble. It’s almost innocuous, that bubbling. In any other house, it would be an almost merry sound – a cheerful counterpoint in life’s great orchestra.
But not now. Not here. Here, that bubbling is about as cheerful and as welcome as a crow’s caw. Because it heralds misery.
There’s a noise behind you. You don’t turn. You don’t need to. You know what’s there. You try to stay calm. You try to pretend that today it will be different. Today there will be no misery. But you know the lie too well.
You strain the pans. Put the contents on the plate, next to the breaded chicken. You’ve added tomato sauce. His favourite. And chips. You’re thinking about whipping up some gravy. Would that be too much? You don’t know anymore. You’ve lost all sense of reason. You do know the whole damn plate is a bribe, really. He knows it, too. It might work. Might not. Probably not.
You turn, the plate already in your hand. He’s quick, already in his seat. Is that a smirk playing around his lips? Defiance? Perhaps even scorn. He’s staring at you. You stare back. Two gunfighters locked in a moment, separated by one table and years of confrontation. You slide the plate to him. You smile a soothing smile.
‘Gonna eat them peas, partner?’
Silence. He looks at them. His eyes flick back to you. He prods at them with a fork.
‘Got tomato sauce there, kiddo. Make ‘em taste better. Chips, too.’
‘Yep. Still not gonna eat the peas though.’
‘What about the broccoli?’
‘Just a little mouthful?’
‘Just try it. It’s good for you.’
The only answer is the scrape of the plate as it slides back towards you. You turn back to the hob where, out of sight, a back-up pan of pasta and cheese is cooking.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, then that’s because it’s a scenario that’s played out in scores of dining rooms and kitchens up and down the country every single day. A relentless circular drama of can’t eat, won’t eat where bribery and compromise becomes the currency of trade.
Anxiety over food is the most common issue I deal with daily and there’s no simple or straightforward reason for it.
Selective eating disorder (SED) in children has been around forever – it just didn’t have a name. But at least two or three times every week I see parents whose children will only eat about six different white or beige foods like bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and chips.
The fact is your child probably has a severe food phobia and no reward, treat or punishment will overcome that fear and anxiety.
In most cases, hypnosis offers the best way of resolving these issues because it can change the child’s subconscious relationship with food and so can almost always ease the anxiety.
But hypnotherapy isn’t an overnight fix. It’s the start of a journey that requires patience, a consistent approach and perseverance on the part of the parents in a battle they often wrongly feel has already been lost.
We all go into natural forms of hypnosis every day (day dreaming, driving etc.) and children are experts at it. As experienced clinical practitioners specialising in children’s problems, we simply focus on enhancing that natural ability in order to get to the root cause of the eating disorder.
With hypnotherapy, mealtimes don’t need to feel like a re-enactment of High Noon.
Elaine Hodgins is a qualified clinical paediatric hypnotist at Zoe Clews & Associates