A scream of rage brings me running into the dining room. Our youngest son has his cereal bowl on his head and his plate up in front of him like a shield, dinner knife in hand. Our oldest has his glass raised above his head, ready to throw. Both their faces are contorted with rage and fear. We haven’t even started our meal yet, and before I can stop them, youngest has run towards oldest and jabbed his fork into brother’s cheek. I hold back tears whilst separating them into different rooms yet again. This was not how, as a Christian parent, I had imagined family meal times to be. Where was the joyful family together time at the end of the day, where we shared food, fellowship, hopes and dreams together? Despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t even get our family to sit around a table together without outright violence. Our youngest son was losing weight as he ate so little because meal times were so stressful, and there were more and more foods he was refusing to eat at all.
That evening, feeling despondent and exhausted, I came across a small advert in the Job 29:12 Facebook Group, for a course called ‘Stress-Free Mealtimes’, run by an occupational therapist I had never heard of called Anne Laure Jackson, who ran an organisation called CHOTS. I signed up more in hope than expectation – was there anyone who could sort out this level of chaos? Even the psychologist we had consulted had failed to come up with any useful ideas about mealtimes. After an initial short Zoom consultation with Anne Laure, (my first of many Zoom experiences!) I joined the first online teaching session in January 2020. There were to be 12 weekly sessions, each involving teaching by Anne Laure followed by a group discussion with other course participants.
We learned together, week by week, about the science behind food neophobia (the fear of new foods), and the sensory processing challenges which were the real reasons why our children struggled with eating, as well as practical strategies to gently and lovingly help our children overcome these challenges. Crucially Anne Laure also wove together teaching about the social and spiritual needs of our families alongside the scientific sensory processing issues. Each session addressed how to feed the body, soul and spirit, and began and ended with prayer.
At last, our children’s struggles were not dismissed or ignored, but validated as genuine issues, not just ‘kids behaving badly’. We celebrated each other’s small steps forward, and shared ideas for how to put Anne Laure’s teaching into practise. By week 4, our family was again able to eat together round a table. By the end of the course, we were enjoying the kind of joyful shared fellowship that I had always dreamed of but never managed to achieve. Since then, we have had occasional slips back into the bad old days of conflict and disruption, but I now have a whole toolbox full of solutions and ideas to bring things back round again. We now share laughter, ideas, stories, hopes, fears and times of prayer as well as good food which we can all tuck into together.
After Stress Free Mealtimes, I continued on with the CHOTS Sensory Supers programme. This was a comprehensive multi-course teaching programme on many different aspects of sensory processing difficulties, but with the same basic set-up as Stress Free Mealtimes, and included the Handwriting with Ease course too. The Sensory Super-Parents system has done for our general family life what Stress Free Mealtimes did for our mealtimes – a massive reduction in conflict, stress and meltdowns, and a whole toolkit of ideas and understanding for us parents which we can use to face new challenges and old. We have been able to share ideas and strategies about helping with sensory processing issues with our children’s school and with other parents.
CHOTS is now growing beyond a service just for parents. I have recently joined the team myself, and there are plans afoot to expand the work to include sensory processing support for schools and churches as well as professionals such as teachers and non-parent carers.
The next Stress Free Mealtimes Course starts in January 2022 and lasts for 12 weeks. You can join up to the Sensory Supers Program at any time, whether you are a parent, grandparent, or other kind of carer. To find out whether this would be right for you, you can book a free 1:1 15 minute online consultation with Anne Laure via the website. In my experience, the time and effort invested in this course has been more than repaid in the rewards of seeing our family starting to thrive rather than just survive from day to day, and I will always be grateful to God for bringing Anne Laure into our lives at a time when we were exhausted and desperate.
May you also be blessed by God through the work of CHOTS.