Strategies to support children with eating difficulties
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Strategies to support children with eating difficulties

where the cause is NOT a swallowing problem, but we are having a “fussy eater” in the family, seeming for no obvious reason

When parents have a child who find mealtimes or eating difficult, it can put pressure on the whole family dynamics. Once we have observed a child’s eating and drinking skills and found that they are not swallowing impaired, but are for want of a better word “fussy” or “picky”, we can then start to look at what might be underpinning the food aversions/picky eating/food avoidance. Two of the main questions parents have (of course) are:

  • ‘is my child getting the right nutrition?’
  • ‘how can I have less anxiety-provoking and stressful mealtimes?’

We all tend to have an image in our minds about the ‘perfect mealtime’, and how mealtimes ‘should’ be. Speech and Language Therapists with a Feeding Specialism are the perfect professionals to help you unpick feeding issues. We are trained to look at swallowing and oral skills and we also know a lot about feeding behaviours and sensory difficulties which could be causing your child’s eating avoidance.

Here are some strategies that can support children with their eating:

  1. Create and maintain a mealtime culture that suits your home and lifestyle. Then stick to that. We all need some routine in our lives to thrive. Mealtimes are no different. It might be that you eat in the same place for every meal, with the same knives and forks, concentrating on maintaining good posture. Children learn by repetition so the more familiar it is, the easier they will find it. In the physical sense, our bodies also need preparing for food, regardless of whether we are eating with our mouths or we are tube-fed. We want every child to connect all the dots of the process. It starts with their eyes, noses, expectations, memories of past experiences, feelings and then finally their mouths….
  2. Be an excellent role model. Children learn through watching others, so your child will be observing you without you knowing. Ensure that you are positive about the food you are all eating, and talk about how delicious, tasty, juicy, and yummy the foods are. Make the atmosphere around the dinner table light hearted. Even though you are secretly stressed about your child not eating, try and not show this. Instead pick a topic or put on some nice music, or talk about something your child might be interested in, and try and avoid coercing your child to eat. Leave small finger foods on their plates and have a range of foods available on the table so that your child can see that everyone is eating a range of foods and enjoying them.
  3. Use positive reinforcement. Try and think of mealtimes as fun and motivating. Children who are happy will likely be more inclined to try foods and take part in family mealtimes. Reward all interactions around food, so if your child merely touches a new food then praise this behaviour. Or if your child licks a food just once, again make a nice comment and praise your child for touching and licking the food. The takeaway here is to try and keep all messages positive around food.
  4. Keep offering all types of food. What often happens is that parents stop serving foods they know will not be eaten. This makes sense in a way; we don’t want wastage! However, try and keep the doors open and re-offer all types of foods, even the ones that your child has not wanted in the past. Try and give your child one food they will like and one food they have tasted before and liked before, even a little, and then one new food to try. So, your child always has something to fall back on and they can join in with eating. But they can also try (or at least look at and think about trying) other foods that you and perhaps the siblings are eating.

Take a look at this website, I find it very helpful in showing parents what types of foods and how big a portion to offer

Have a go and try and implement some of the ideas above, and should you get stuck please get in touch!

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Transforming Mealtimes

Transforming Mealtimes

Speech Therpaist in London

Transforming Mealtimes

Below are two reviews I got from grateful clients over the past 4-6 weeks; this blog is more about how Feeding Therapy can help you than blowing my own trumpet…. though that said, it is always so nice and gratifying to hear when parents are happy and hopeful about their little one’s feeding journey. Feeding Therapy is a substantial part of my work as a Children’s Speech and Language Therapist. One of my specialist subjects is Autism and we find that many children on the Autism Spectrum are very specific about eating, and will often refuse a range of typical family foods in favour of a narrow range of foods/snacks.

Mostly, feeding difficulties are a combination and complex cocktail of factors that have contributed to the current status quo: sure, there may have been some physical problems to start off with, such as reflux causing the baby discomfort, constipation, a very tight tongue tie or a swallowing problem caused by neurological difficulties and of course sensory processing difficulties are also very physical experiences. We always begin with a very thorough case history taking and information gathering, followed by an oral assessment and observation of the actual swallow to establish what might have been – or still might be – the cause for the feeding difficulties.

In most of the cases I see in my practice, the original obvious cause is no longer present, especially with older children. So, if the swallowing is fine, the reflux is no longer present, the tongue was divided (twice!) why are they still not eating much, refusing to try new foods, only accept certain textures etc.

The answer is extremely complex and multi-faceted and this little blog is not covering any factors in detail (we would be here all night) -I mentioned sensory processing difficulties earlier on. These are mostly still present but often not acknowledged or recognised by parents. And it is certainly the case that one of the contributors is parental anxiety; this tends to run very high and has been for many months, sometimes years. This in turn often leads to very tense and unpleasant, endlessly long meal times and many times children are force-fed several times a day in order to “get something down there” as otherwise they would probably starve themselves.

Additionally, parents end up only offering a very narrow range of foods because that is all their child will eat. This ends up in a vicious cycle of children being fed porridge-style food for all meal times and of course they won’t progress to more mature foods if these mature foods are never on offer.

In order to help address and disentangle some of the issues I often introduce the “Division of Responsibility in Feeding” as researched and recommended by Ellyn Satter (The Satter Feeding Dynamics Model)

Here are the main points of her approach:

Children have a natural ability with eating, they eat as much as they need and they grow in the way that is right for them and they learn to eat what their parents eat. (E Satter). The parent is responsible for WHAT the child eats, WHERE and WHEN the child eats. The child is responsible for HOW MUCH they eat or WHETHER to eat. Satter proposes that parents should guide their child’s transition from nipple feeding through semi-solids, then thick and lumpy foods to finger foods and then on to normal family meals.

Please note: this model is only appropriate for children where the original physical cause is no longer present!

Of course it’s not easy! It requires a huge shift in thinking about feeding and it requires to trust our children to know what is best for them. This is very big for most parents, as it is not how we were brought up and it is not commonly known that babies and children know what is good for them!

However, it is certainly true that parents who follow this particular approach and make small, steady changes in the way the offer foods, and in the way they create family meal times differently, children make very nice, pleasing progress and over some months we often see remarkable positive changes.

I like to work in a team and especially for this type of problem it is essential to have a multi-disciplinary approach. A knowledgeable dietician is an enormous plus in any feeding team as is of course a

Paediatrician and/ or a Gastroenterologist and the most important people in the team are the parents!

Feeding Therapy is all about collaboration and a ‘team around the child” approach. When we have this in place and there is trust amongst the team members then we make fantastic progress.

Do get in touch with me if you would like some help with your tricky feeder.

Lovely Reviews

I visited London Speech and Feeding a couple of days ago with my 8-month-old granddaughter and her mother. Sonja made us feel comfortable and at ease from our first introductions. She was able to pinpoint my granddaughter’s mum’s anxiety around weaning very quickly. She not only gave her the tools to do this successfully, but also really encouraged my granddaughter’s mum and instilled confidence that she had everything she needed to make this sometimes-difficult transition without further anxiety.

Sonja was very thorough in her initial assessment of my granddaughter’s physical milestones and her developing speech. My granddaughter felt very comfortable with Sonja and happily played along with her. Then came the big moment – trying out various foods! We were amazed to see just how easily my granddaughter, with Sonja’s expert encouragement, took to sampling the wonderful array of different delicious morsels Sonja had prepared for the session. My granddaughter even drank from a cup for the first time! Wonderful!

Sonja then emailed a summary of the session and an extensive array of resources with suggestions for my granddaughter’s mum which she has now put into action. My granddaughter’s mum couldn’t thank Sonja enough for her caring attitude, extensive knowledge, and warm professionalism. I have no hesitation in recommending Sonja, she’s a fantastic Feeding Therapist!

Sonja (and her lovely colleague, Sandra) were stupendous. I had brought my one-year-old son to see them as I was concerned that he wasn’t eating enough. They looked at his history and we ate together to make sure they had all the information they needed to give an accurate diagnosis. Whilst our outcome was that Henry was in fact doing brilliantly (and I just needed to chill out a bit!), I would imagine if there was something more serious going on, Sonja would make you feel just as supported and empowered as she did with us. Excellent follow-ups too. Money well spent for a bit of reassurance for a stressed out mama. Thank you, Sonja!

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.