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What are you eating?

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Dear Life Coach,

My four-year-old daughter has been eating the dust from the blocks that make up the wall on the side of our house. Usually, I send her outside to play with other children, but on several occasions over the past two months, I found her digging into the wall and licking the dust from her finger. Initially, I asked her what she was eating and she said nothing, so I dismissed what I had seen, but after multiple incidences, I am beginning to get concerned.{{more}} Generally, my daughter does not like the foods I prepare, so most of the times she does not eat much during meals. I do not have a lot of money to buy a wide variety of food stuff, but I do try to prepare healthy meals, but she is just not eating them. This is beginning to stress me out. I do not want my child to be undernourished or to get sick. What should I do?

Distressed Mother (DM)

Dear DM,

It must be frightening to see your daughter eating the dust from building blocks.

Your Situation:

Several factors appear to be at work here: pica, mental retardation, other psychological disorders, social deprivation/emotional neglect, potential lead poisoning, inadequate nutrition, among others. I will address each briefly.

Pica

Pica is the desire for and eating of non-nutritious substances, which usually occurs in early childhood.

Mental Retardation

Children who persistently eat non-nutritive substances are often diagnosed with mental retardation and as such, this disorder must be ruled out in order for a pica diagnosis to be made.

Other Psychological Disorders

Pica may also be a symptom of other psychological disorders, including childhood schizophrenia (widespread disturbance in feelings, mood, and thought, emotional pain and inability to function appropriately), and infantile autism (disturbance in the development of the psychological mechanism necessary for acquiring social skills and language).

Emotional Problems/ Child Neglect

Pica may also be associated with emotional and social deprivation, child neglect and poor supervision (that is, the emotional and social needs of these children are not being adequately met; e.g. they experience a lack of love, attention, affection, social interaction and so on).

Potential Lead Poisoning

A major problem with pica is that your child could be placed at risk for lead poisoning, especially if your house is of the older type (built prior to 1978), as the paint and plumbing may be made from materials including lead. Symptoms of lead poisoning may be confused with other ailments, such as the flu. Lead poisoning symptoms in children may include appetite loss, weight loss, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation, anemia, headaches, aggressiveness, and sluggishness. Lead poisoning may result in kidney damage, brain damage, seizures, decreased muscle and bone growth, learning disabilities, speech problems, impaired hearing, and nervous system damage. Many of the negative effects of lead poisoning may not be reversible with treatment. Some lead poisoning cases may also result in death.

Inadequate Nutrition

Some children who display symptoms of pica may be under nourished and as such, the issue may be resolved with adequate nutrition.

What to Do:

Give it Time

Most incidences of pica are resolved by themselves over time. So, give it some time.

Adequate Nutrition/ Variety in Meals

Every individual has his or her preference in terms of food and that also includes children. It is very important to take note of the healthy foods that your daughter likes and prepare those for her within your means. It is also important to give her a variety of foods, which is possible even on a low income budget. Include vegetables and fruits in her diet and prepare them so that they are appealing, e.g. adding strawberry syrup or honey to fruits or dips to vegetables and so on. Also, model eating the healthy foods that you want your daughter to eat. Pica may be resolved with adequate nutrition, once there are no other issues such as mental retardation and/or other psychological concerns.

Public Assistance

It may be important to see if you qualify for public assistance or food aid at the social welfare department. This will help to ensure that you have an adequate supply of food.

Physical Examination & Lead Poisoning Testing

Take your daughter for a physical examination to determine any nutritional deficits and a blood test for possible lead poisoning.

Emotional & Social Support

Ensure that you give your daughter lots of love and attention. Hug her daily. Be gentle when you speak to her. Speak positively to your daughter at all times. Use positive correction instead of negative correction. Reward her for appropriate behaviour. Talk with your daughter everyday and listen to her (requests, ideas, suggestions, concerns etc). Ensure that she spends time with her father, even if he does not live within her household. Ensure that your daughter has good positive friends to play with, at least once per week. Ensure that there is no potential for physical or sexual abuse. It may be important to make your daughter your main focus of attention for the next six months and figure out what else may be going on with her that could be triggering this symptom.

Psychological Assessment

If the symptoms of pica persist over the next six to twelve months, have your daughter evaluated for other psychological issues and/or mental retardation.

DM, hopefully this condition will be resolved by itself soon.

Life Coach

DYNACII

Need help with relationship and other problems? Ask DYNACII’s Life Coach. Email your questions to [email protected] To Chat with the Life Coach, visit: http://www.dynacinternational.com. Dynamic Action Center International Inc. (DYNACII) a non-governmental organization committed to social and spiritual empowerment.

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